The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Malta needs focused and dedicated Maritime Authority and Court – MMF

Semira Abbas Shalan Sunday, 2 April 2023, 09:30 Last update: about 2 years ago

Malta needs a focused and dedicated Maritime Authority and a Maritime Court, chairman of the Malta Maritime Forum Godwin Xerri said.

The Malta Maritime Forum brings together all stakeholders in the Maltese maritime industry, with the scope of being a platform for as many players as possible, including foreign companies established in Malta.

The Malta Independent on Sunday spoke with chairman Xerri, and CEO of the forum Kevin J. Borg, on the pressing issues the maritime industry currently faces.

Xerri said that some of the issues the forum is debating at the moment are highly relevant to the country, such as having a specific authority dealing with the maritime sector only.

“When Malta had a dedicated Maritime Authority, it gave results – be it legislative, infrastructural or otherwise. We never agreed with the concept of putting the maritime with other activities such as aviation or road transport,” Xerri said. The sector now falls within Transport Malta.

“When we look at the best practices with regards to the sea abroad, they are all coming from authorities which are dedicated to the maritime sector,” Xerri continued.

He said that there is so much to be done that it is humanly impossible for a single person to give the necessary focus to the maritime industry. The maritime industry contributes to as much as 13% to the national economy, generating over 20,000 places of employment which deserve focus, he said.

One thing Malta lacks is the element of marketing, as by marketing our ports and the Malta Flag and showcasing our products, it would attract businesses, facilitate decision-making processes and cater to the high standards expected in this industry.

“Despite short communication lines in Malta, one cannot rely on talking to the minister involved with every issue one has; you need a bureaucratic set-up to function in a similar manner,” Xerri said.

Xerri also said that there needs to be a dedicated Maritime Court.

“The fact that Malta as a jurisdiction is sought after by the insurance industry, ship-owning industry and more, as one can get professional, equitable and speedy decisions which function, imagine how much more it would function if Malta were to have a dedicated maritime court,” Xerri said.

Borg added that this is more of a question of organising the law courts to give space to the maritime sector, proposing a structure where the maritime court can already fit in by virtue of an amendment in one particular law. He emphasised that the forum is not proposing a restructuring of the legal system.

Borg said that a maritime court can efficiently address cases of any companies, provided there are no delays in the case, as time costs money for a ship to be stuck in our ports.

 

Shipping agents in Malta do not require a licence

An issue Xerri pointed out is that anyone can simply describe themselves as a shipping agent in Malta, without a licence required.

He said that in most European countries, to be a shipping agent, one must reach certain standards, levels of education, and more importantly, they must be licensed and have regulations which include the law required to put this into practice.

“Unfortunately, there are divergent views on how to go about this. If we want to attract foreign investment, we must in turn increase the standards. We cannot stall things because there are divergent views. We have to sit at a table and make decisions,” Xerri said.

Xerri also said that Malta needs to invest in further education within this sector. He described it as a “pity” that Malta, a maritime nation, does not have tertiary education for the industry.

While lawyers can specialise in the maritime in the legal sector, there are no academic courses in logistics and maritime economics at University level, he said.

He continued that while there are institutes trying to fill in the gaps, there should be the relevant academic courses at University, and there should also be some form of guidance in secondary schools, for teenagers who are preparing to choose a career path in the maritime sector.

 

Maritime is equated with pollution – a serious misunderstanding

“There is a very serious misunderstanding at an international level where many people equate maritime with pollution,” Xerri said.

While there is certainly an element of pollution in the maritime sector, the pollution generated by a vessel, translated over the volume of cargo that a ship can carry, is much less than other means of transport.

“A truck has a much higher level of pollution for the volume carried. Same with the airplane,” he said.

Xerri said that there is so much awareness nowadays, that the vessel must have safeguards to prevent pollution at any cost.

Additionally, the issue of decarbonisation is high on the agenda of international shipping, with billions of euros being spent on research and technology towards energy efficient ships, he said.

Xerri mentioned Malta as a pioneer in the shore-to-ship power project, where government is investing €180m on port facilities in the Grand Harbour, including shore-to-ship electricity projects which allows large ships to draw power from the national electricity grid, saving at least a portion of the fuel emissions at sea.

Xerri and Borg expressed concern towards the lack of any mention from government on the training of people who will be maintaining the operation of the shore-to-ship project, despite being geared for the infrastructural change.

“We would like to assume that training is being considered in conjunction with having the facility. New technology means new skills required,” Xerri said.

 

LNG fuel introduced overseas for the past 5 years, in Malta we are still debating

Xerri said that Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) fuel has been introduced in north European ports for the past five years, yet in Malta we are still debating about it. He said that the forum tries to influence shipowners in Malta to turn to LNG fuel, but the needed facilities must be offered.

Malta generates a lot of overland movement; hence we must be conscious of the fact that we must contribute more.

Borg added that the forum has organised the first seminar in Malta on the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) within the maritime sector, which is instrumental to encourage members to make a commitment to the ESG, bringing in the best practices such as awareness for the environment, no discrimination between sexes, ensuring equal pay and opportunities and more.

On governance, Xerri said that the forum is pushing towards having service providers in Malta being appropriately covered by insurance policies, employing professional people to ensure quality of the service and making sure the service provider is consistent.

 

Yachting: a booming industry, but should not come at expense of ecological impact

Xerri said that the yachting industry is booming internationally, with the pandemic giving rise to the concept of the private holiday.

“I dare say Malta is the leading Flag for yachting within the EU. Being on board a yacht with your dearest is an attraction in itself,” he said.

Asked if there are too many yachts in our marinas, Xerri said that Malta’s yacht centres are far smaller compared to international ones and the booming industry is a response to a demand.

“This has to be done in a responsible manner, and while yes, you need marinas, we must strike a balance with the ecological aspect, to ensure that the entertainment part is not at the expense of the environment,” he said.

“And it can be done. However, we would be doing a huge disservice to future generations if we permit development in the maritime industry at any expense. This is the blue economy,” Xerri continued.

Xerri said that Malta is a pioneer in the study on the safeguarding of the ocean seabed making sure to be very attentive that development does not come at the expense of the environment.

“It needs not. I believe that this is Malta's attraction; that we can offer a clean and pollution free environment, starting from noise up to pollution of fuels and safeguarding our bays and harbours from undue pressure,” Xerri said.

 

Unmanned ships are not the solution to reducing ship emissions for Fit for 55

Xerri said that it would be a huge mistake if the shipping industry resorts to unmanned ships, which would look at profit at the cost of creating employment.

“I believe there is more work created through employment than just by sheer profit,” he said.

Xerri was asked about the deal reached by the EU Parliament and European Union on cleaner maritime fuels, asking to cut ship emissions by 2% as of 2025 and by 80% as of 2050, to help the EU become climate neutral.

He said that this is already a tall order for Malta, as one must take into consideration at what cost this can be done, to avoid extra prices which would have to be paid by the consumer.

Xerri said efficiency should come from research, committing to standards and quality, encouraging other Flags to also raise their standards and offer a range of services for the shipping industry.

“The more we are able to provide cleaner fuels, the more quality of ships entering our ports, complying with EU regulations,” Xerri said.

 

Another part of the interview will be carried in ‘The Malta Business Weekly’ on Thursday

 

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