The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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Security in uncertain times

Sunday, 7 August 2022, 06:48 Last update: about 3 months ago

Alicia Bugeja Said

The arrival of the Lundy Sentinel in our shores earlier this week, is a massive boost for all European fishing boats operating in the region. This patrol and inspection vessel from the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), will indubitably play a key role in ensuring the safety and security of all Maltese fishermen during these summer months. However, there still remain several clouds over the horizon, as long-term security issues plaguing the region remain unaddressed.

The Lundy Sentinel is the result of three years of pressure and constant dialogue by the Maltese Government, through its representatives in the General Fisheries Committee for the Mediterranean. We had repeatedly stated how tensions in the Mediterranean had reached a critical stage, threatening the livelihood of our fishing industry and the sovereignty of our nation as a whole.

Local newspapers, including The Malta Independent, had published numerous stories on the threats faced by Maltese fishermen while out on the high seas. Both Tunisian and Libyan vessels were observed fishing without permission within Maltese waters. Numerous fishing aggregate devices (kanizzati) on the high seas were either poached or removed. A small number of these incidents even reported aggressive manoeuvring by these vessels and even threats of physical violence.

Fortunately, the European Union finally recognised the severity of the situation. The deployment of the Lundy Sentinel will act as a shield for all Maltese and European fishermen who act responsibly and within the confines of the law. This vessel, manned by both European and Maltese inspectors, will have the power to inspect both local and foreign vessels. It will also provide logistical support to any vessel in the neighbouring area, especially during an emergency.

I cannot, however, mention this initiative without publicly lauding the efforts by the Armed Forces of the Malta during these past years. Not only have they been responsible for providing logistical and emergency aid to our fishermen in need, but they have been constantly on the forefront, protecting our Maltese waters against foreign incursions by third parties. The arrival of the vessel, under the mandate of the EFCA, will help share the burden of patrolling our waters during the summer season by a considerable margin.

Government, through its numerous projects in infrastructure, research and sustainability, had already converted its promises of support for our fishermen into concrete action. With this initiative, government has also tackled the issue of security; albeit, with the knowledge that such security initiatives are only for the short-term.

Climate change effects on the marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean has been devastating. The Mediterranean is warming fast, with multiple studies noting an average increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the past few decades. The effects of said changes are not solely felt by Maltese fishermen, but by those of the entire Mediterranean region. It’s not difficult to deduce that the strains on the global fish supply can only worsen, before starting to dissipate.

Additionally, the Mediterranean Sea might face an extended period of instability in the not-too distant future. International publications such as the Economist and Politico, have repeatedly noted Tunisia’s descent into authoritarianism, as well as the never-ending instability plaguing the Libyan government. As things stand, relevant questions on maritime security remain unresolved, to the detriment of everyone involved.

Malta plays a key role here. Its geographical size leaves us heavily dependent on foreign trends and regional developments. Our geographical and political positions, however, leave us with a pre-eminent voice in the region, acting as a bridge between multiple stakeholders, in the pursuit of a common goal. Rather than despair, we must remain steadfast and optimistic in our ability to reach across borders and address issues through constant dialogue and diplomatic efforts.

We have demonstrated repeatedly that, in the face of all the different challenges posed to our fishing industry, government will act proactively, effectively and decidedly. We will continue defending the interests of this industry through all international fora. Dialogue, although important, will be supplemented with concrete investment, policy dissemination and tangible changes, in order to have the full effect. This is how we will achieve our long-term vision of a sustainable fishing industry, which overcomes all possible obstacles. 

 

Alicia Bugeja Said is parliamentary secretary for Fisheries, Aquaculture

and Animal Welfare

 

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