Malta Maritime Forum pushes on for the need to have a holistic maritime strategy and a dedicated authority.

World Maritime Day has been celebrated on September 28 since 1978 to focus attention on the importance of shipping safety, maritime security and the marine environment but it also serves to shed light on an industry which, despite its size and economic contribution, has often failed to receive the importance it deserves.

The international shipping industry plays a crucial role in transporting a staggering 90 per cent of global trade. Millions of passengers travel by sea for work or leisure. Shipping serves as the lifeblood of the world economy and remains the most economic and least pollutant mode of transport on a per-ton-mile basis.

This applies both for the carriage of bulk commodities which are required as raw materials, as well as for finished products that are traded globally. It is an indispensable tool for facilitating intercontinental trade, the efficient transportation of raw materials, and the import and export of affordable food and manufactured products.

Our own Malta Freeport Terminals in Marsaxlokk has over the years established itself as an integral part of an intricate web of maritime transportation services which not only fuels economic growth but also sustains countless jobs and livelihoods, making shipping an integral part of the global economy and a vital contributor to our interconnected world.

Indeed, this applies to our small island nation as well. The maritime sector holds great relevance for Malta due to its strategic Mediterranean location, serving as a key maritime hub linking Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. This sector plays a vital role in Malta’s economy, contributing significantly through activities such as shipping services, ship registration, ship repair and port operations.

Malta remains a leading flag for registration of ships, recognised for its rigorous standards and competitive advantages, attracting shipowners worldwide to register their vessels under the Maltese flag. This robust maritime activity in Malta generates substantial revenue and employment opportunities, underlining its enduring importance to the country’s economic landscape.

Malta is also home to a vast array of ancillary services including ship repair, yachting centres, bunkering operators, towage services, professional legal service providers, educational institutes as well as experts in maritime law, to name a few.

Research that the Malta Maritime Forum (MMF) commissioned in 2020 established that the maritime sector collectively generates €855 million in direct economic activity, which substantially increases to almost €2.2 billion when considering both indirect and induced impacts.

This industry also supports nearly 12,000 direct jobs, with the workforce expanding to over 20,000 when accounting for ancillary services. This excludes significant economic multiplier effects within the financial and insurance sectors.

Additionally, the maritime sector contributes approximately €25 million to government revenue. Notably, the average value added per employee in the maritime industry is 53 per cent higher than the national average, and this economic indicator is experiencing a faster growth rate within the maritime sector (12 per cent) compared to the overall economy (10 per cent).

The maritime industry is not immune from global challenges that are presented by environmental considerations brought about by global warming, sustainability, compliance with increasingly stringent regulations, limited human resources, rising operational costs, cybersecurity threats, geopolitical tensions affecting trade routes, and the need for digital transformation to enhance efficiency and competitiveness. Being a nimble jurisdiction, Malta is rightly sized and rightly located to transform these challenges into opportunities for growth.

Among operators, there is a prevailing viewpoint that Malta is still far off from realising its full maritime potential. From a logistical perspective, Malta’s strategic Mediterranean location offers a prime opportunity.

The central position in the region enables Malta to offer competitive value and supply chain services, a capability further enhanced by the recent technological advancements on the islands and a thriving commercial sector.

This reputation opens up possibilities for future advancements in research and innovation within the maritime industry, including diverse areas like bunkering of cleaner fuels, where global investments have already demonstrated interest.

As the world celebrates the centrality of the maritime industry in our lives, the Malta Maritime Forum pushes on the dire need for Malta to have a holistic maritime strategy that charts the way forward for the industry through a shared vision between the public and private sector. It is precisely for this objective that the forum believes and promotes the need for a dedicated maritime authority which goes beyond the creation of another government entity, but rather, to raise the status of the industry at an international level. The government’s confirmation of the creation of a specialised maritime court is not only welcome but compliments the robustness of maritime Malta which foreign investors appreciate and recognise.

In recent weeks, various stakeholders from political, economic and social spheres have advocated for Malta to adopt a fresh economic framework that will address not only the challenges that globalisation creates but also the significant challenges that the local realities present by way of sustainability.

I firmly believe that attracting more investment in the maritime sector can serve as a vital catalyst in realising this transition. While the government plays a crucial role in fostering this transformation, it is equally vital for the private sector to actively drive growth by providing the necessary impetus.

Through public/private collaboration and by prioritising the maritime sector within Malta’s economic strategy, we have the potential to propel Malta’s maritime industry to unprecedented levels, serving as a compelling, sustainable benchmark for our European and Mediterranean counterparts. To make sure this happens, we must act decisively.

On the occasion of World Maritime Day, I would like to pay tribute to the myriad of Maltese personnel who have contributed in no small way to the standing that Maritime Malta enjoys on an international level. This goes beyond naming individuals.

Throughout my career in this industry, I have met so many exceptional Maltese professionals at a technical (both sea-going and engineering) legal, managerial and, yes, even political level that make us proud. This places on us today the responsibility to aim for higher goals, notwithstanding the challenges that need to be harnessed and translated into opportunities.

The article appeared on the Times of Malta on 4th October 2023

Karin Grech
Author: Karin Grech