As an island in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, maritime activity has always played a very crucial role in the development of Malta. Throughout history, we as Maltese have traded with seafarers providing services that have moulded our country’s hospitality culture – and in the last 30 years, the islands have come a long way in developing its maritime industry with various strategic and infrastructural investments.

According to a study commissioned by the Malta Maritime Forum and performed by E-Cubed Consultants, the maritime community collectively generates €855m worth of direct economic activity which rises to almost €2.2 billion when considering indirect and induced effects.

Furthermore, the industry provides almost 12,000 direct jobs which figure rises to over 20,000 people when account is taken of both indirect and induced effects. The same study highlighted close economic multiplier effects generated in the financial and insurance sectors. The maritime industry also contributes around €25m to the government coffers. It is worth noting that the average value added/employee generated in the maritime industry is 53 per cent higher than the national average. This economic indicator is rising faster in the maritime industry (12 per cent), compared to the average growth rate in the economy in general (10 per cent).

Indeed, the Norwegian Maritime Innovation Institute predicted that by 2030 the global marine industry would double its contribution to GDP. At the same time, the maritime industry the world over is facing the onerous responsibilities and challenges brought about by global efforts towards climate change and the reduction of harmful carbon emissions.

Like every other business, therefore, maritime operators are being expected to embrace and manage the so-called ‘twin transitions’ of digitalization and the green economy. The challenges and regulatory demands arising from climate change strategies are extremely and the maritime industry needs to build capacity and know-how to enable it to face the transformations. I believe that the transitions are indeed intertwined as there can be very little decarbonisation without digitalization.

These new developments and challenges, therefore, present the country with new opportunities which it must seize with both hands to ensure steady growth in the maritime industry and continued economic contribution to Malta.

In my opinion, Malta is in an excellent position to turn some of these challenges into significant opportunities. I also believe the Malta Maritime Forum set-up in 2015 is well-positioned to spearhead innovation into the local maritime industry and direct it to new heights with the support of technology.  Government must create an enabling environment for this to happen, but the private sector must provide the necessary traction for growth.

The Malta Maritime Forum platform is centrally placed to support the necessary developments within the Industry. It may do so by developing an innovation cluster and link to European and global networks with similar innovation-led aspirations. At the same time, the MMF would need to tap on funding opportunities dedicated to capacity-building methodologies for development. With these fundamentals in place, the MMF could spark off, lead, and develop an innovation culture across the maritime industry cluster.

Capacity building is a development methodology accepted by the UNDP and initially developed by Ghent University. It consists of four thrusts, which, when set in unison, can lift the maritime industry into a higher level of performance.

The first thrust is policy and legislation. The second thrust is institutional development. The third thrust is human resources development, and the fourth thrust is community dissemination and engagement.

The maritime industry cannot grow without a vibrant capacity for innovation. The cluster’s sole responsibility will be to drive this by first mapping the sector as a highly complex ecosystem. For this to succeed, the industry must be smart and agile, and must itself also commit the necessary resources to navigate toward the desired journey. This is in line with the second Smart Specialisation Strategy that the government recently published. I am confident that a collaboration between the Malta Maritime Forum and the Malta Innovation Forum could provide some synergies.

In this regard, the MMF CEO’s recent nomination to sit on a Marine and Maritime Technology Thematic Committee is a positive step in the right direction. This thematic committee is tasked to advise government on investment in new technologies in the Maritime Sector as part of the Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy 2021-2027 for Malta.

The journey ahead is not straightforward and navigating the future will not be easy. However, I believe that if we unite and commit, there is no reason why we should not succeed.

This article appeared in the Times of Malta on 20 November 2022

Karin Grech
Author: Karin Grech