MALTA PRIORITISES BLUE ECONOMY AND MARITIME CLUSTER

Malta Malta to champion its maritime cluster

When Malta held the presidency of the European Union Council two years ago, the maritime sector was a declared priority. Felicity Landon gauges the position now.

Malta’s efforts in pushing the maritime agenda led to the 2017 Valletta Declaration and laid the path for a more ‘holistic’ and integrated EU strategy on maritime management.
At the ‘local’ level, Malta is continuing to develop and champion its maritime cluster, including its role as a container transhipment and bunkering hub, and as home to Europe’s
leading flag and a thriving maritime legal sector.

Malta Marittima, a relatively new government agency, has been tasked with promoting the whole of the island’s ‘Blue Economy', focusing on five main clusters: energy, fisheries and aquaculture, logistics, marine engineering and maritime commercial.

The blue economy is a way of life Malta, according to Capt. David Bugeja, chief officer of the ports and yachting directorate at Transport Malta. “The EU requires every member state to have an integrated maritime policy – and with Malta being one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, and tourism shooting up, our challenge today is to keep our blue economy sustainable and to appreciate it more. Innovation and progress are smart, but we also need to look after it.”

Malta is a member of WestMED, a European Union project with five partner countries in Europe and five in North Africa which is aiming to create a safer and more secure maritime space, encourage a smart and resilient blue economy, and deliver improved maritime governance.

Location is an obvious strength for Malta – close to the main shipping routes and with weather also on its side as a major cruise destination and hub for shipbuilding, ship-repair and offshore support and services. Geopolitics has had its impact too. Palumbo Malta Shipyard and the Mediterranean Maritime Hub have both pulled in business supporting offshore fields off Libya since the turbulence in the North African state.

In the aftermath of the UK referendum on EU membership in 2016, Malta Ship Registry has gained even more interest as a European flag, because post-Brexit both the UK and Gibraltar would be outside the EU.

Nothing, however, can be taken for granted. Malta Freeport Terminals (MFT), which had seen a steady increase in volumes over the past few years to reach 3.31m TEU in 2018, will see a decline this year. This is due to Maersk Line’s decision to move some of its services away from the Marsaxlokk hub to its new (APMT) facility in Tangier Med that opened this year.

“During 2018, a number of new services were contracted, which opened-up new markets and increased the traffic volumes handled by the port from South America to the
Mediterranean,” says CEO Alex Montebello. “During 2019, MFT is expected to register a decrease in its throughput, due to several services being shifted from Malta,” he also confirmed.

He remains upbeat though. “Maersk Line recently shifted some of the services that called at the Freeport to its own facility in Tangier Med; however, it has retained its presence at MFT through services covering South America and Northern Europe.”

On the plus side, MFT has attracted new business in the form of a service between the Mediterranean, Caribbean and United States, “further enhancing the port’s connectivity with the western and southern continents”, says Mr Montebello.

Operated by CMA CGM and Marfret, the service links Malta with five additional ports – Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe), Fort-de-France (Martinique), Houston, Veracruz and Puerto Moin. “This complements our present extensive network to South America, including Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Peru and Uruguay,” he says.

At present, the port handles vessels from the Ocean Alliance (CMA CGM, Cosco, OOCL, Evergreen), Hambug Sud, Hapag- Lloyd, Maersk Line, Marfret and Sealand. Feeder services are run by Unimed Feeder Services, NileDutch, Tarros Line, Brointermed Lines, Messina Line, Short Sea Line and Sealand.

Taken together, the shipping lines calling regularly at MFT provide connections with 111 ports worldwide, of which 54 are in the Mediterranean. Around 96% of the port’s container traffic remains transhipment business.

More than €250m of investment has gone into MFT since it was privatised 15 years ago. The Maltese government originally awarded CMA CGM a 30-year concession to operate and develop MFT in 2004. This was extended to a total of 65 years in 2008. Half of the shareholding was sold to Yildirim Group in 2011 and two years later CMA CGM sold a 49 per cent interest in its port operator arm Terminal Link to China Merchants Holdings.

MFT’s investment programme is designed to increase capacity to more than 4 million TEU per annum. This year, it has bought 15 rubber-tyred gantry cranes from KCI Kone Cranes, bring the total RTG fleet to 65.

“As well as being considerably faster than conventional cranes, the 15 new RTGs are safer to operate, featuring an anti-collision system and stack profiling,” says Mr Montebello. “They also feature advanced non-hydraulic design, easy and accurate auto steering and the fastest load handling cycle in the market. They have a variable speed engine, are able to stack containers six-high, and carry out a very stable operation due to a rigid structure and a 16-wheel configuration instead of eight.”

A number of environmental features have been incorporated, he adds – the RTGs consume less fuel and are more energy efficient with lower emissions, and they are fitted with white noise sounders that are ‘considerably quieter’ than the alarms in use on old cranes. This white noise technology has also been retrofitted to the 50 RTGs that were already in operation.

MFT has also invested in 31 tractors, 36 trailers and two reach-stackers this year and installed additional reefer capabilities so that there are now 1,658 slots between its two
terminals. There are plans to buy two more quay cranes to replace two older ones.

In November, meanwhile, MFT welcomed the investment by the Malta Pilots Cooperative in a new inflatable boom to contain oil spills, which can also be used in rough weather. This follows MFT’s own investment in a 300-metre lightweight rapid response boom to protect the bay from any contamination. The inflatable boom is stationed at the port and can be deployed in 14 minutes.

TRAINING CENTRE

The official opening in October of MaritimeMT’s new training centre is a clear illustration of Malta’s ambitions on the global stage. Located in Hal Far, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the €4m centre has been funded by the Malta Maritime Pilots Cooperative Society, with EU and other support.

MaritimeMT is the already well-established training arm of the cooperative; the new facility has been built to strengthen its position “as one of the best maritime training centres in Europe”, says Capt Jesmond Mifsud, chief pilot.

Importantly, the centre is not just aiming at STCW and seafarer training, but also providing courses for shore-based personnel in port operational and related skills – for example, safe mooring or understanding berth allocation.

As well as upgrading two full mission bridge simulators, the investment has included purchasing a liquefied cargo handling simulator, a GMDSS simulator and an ECDIS lab.

The simulators are in demand for traditional training and also for testing and planning ship calls in exercises involving pilots, captains and port personnel. Built in the shape of a ship, with a range of classrooms specifically equipped for maritime training, the facility spreads over 2,300 square metres – and there is room to expand.

BLUE ECONOMY

Realising the full potential of the ‘blue economy’ requires the involvement and participation of all stakeholders, both public and private, in addressing the environmental and ecological sustainability of the oceans, says Alex Montebello at MFT.

“In Malta, the blue economy employs around 10,400 people and generates €406m to gross added value, which represents a 4.7% contribution to Malta GDP,” he says. “The retention and strengthening of the Maltese maritime industry’s competitiveness is an important priority of the Malta blue economy.”

As well as supporting the aims of Malta Marittima, MFT is an active member of the Malta Maritime Forum. This organisation brings together all the stakeholders in the maritime industry, its objective being to create synergies and expand Malta’s network as an important international maritime hub.

The forum is striving to raise awareness of the blue economy’s great potential and of the EU initiatives and legislation which can improve and support the sector, confirms Mr Montebello.

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