29 MAY 2002

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A maritime nation at heart

Transport and Communications Minister Censu Galea addresses the I.M.T.M. International conference on ‘Ports and logistic platforms in the Mediterranean area’.

That Malta is, at heart, a maritime nation with a long history in seafaring and maritime activities going back thousands of years, is today a well-known fact. It is recorded that the Phoenicians were the first colonisers who sought to maximise on the islands’ geographical location by establishing here a staging post for the transportation of merchandise and developing further a logistics centre in the middle of the deadly Shelley deep-blue sea. Throughout the past centuries we have sought to further develop this mission, only that, today, the purple-red sailing ships have been substituted by the post-panamax container ships and the luxurious cruise liners.

Throughout this chequered scenario in Malta’s maritime history, numerous were the mile-stones which shall remain enshrined in the annals of our shipping and ports industry. To mention just a few it suffices to recall the port of Valletta’s valuable contribution during the second world war, the development of the port of Marsaxlokk as a transipment hub, the establishment of Valletta as a very important port of call for cruise liners. When it comes to ship registration the Maltese Register is the forth largest register in the world.

Malta can boast of offering its clients a comprehensive package of maritime services ranging from the provision of port services catering for international trade from the ports of Valletta and Marsaxlokk to ship-repair and ship-building facilities, oil storage, bunkering and ship conveyances and of course the related nautical services.

Within the port of Marsaxlokk there are situated two container terminals which handle over one million TEUS per annum and three oil storage and fuel installations. Moreover, the port still succeeded to retain its status as an important fishing port. The cargo handling terminals are located within a freezone and are managed by the Malta Freeport Corporation.

The port of Valletta, or as better known the Grand Harbour, which up to 1989 was the main port in Malta, today experiences a downward trend in cargo operations since most of the business has been transferred to Marsaxlokk. On the other hand Valletta has over the past years become a very important destination port for the cruise industry. Only last some 358 cruise ships visited the port bringing to our shores circa 274,000 passengers. This was a 50% increase over the figures for 2000.

This activity is envisaged to be further developed following the transfer of passenger operations from the Maritime Authority to the International consortium VISET which is expected to construct a dedicated cruise terminal and redevelop the present ferry terminal within three and a half years. The finite goal is to transform Valletta into a nodal point for cruise liners. Within the port of Valletta there are also situated the Malta Drydocks, two small private yards, the Malta Shipbuilding, grain and cement silos and fuel installations.

While the Malta Freeport Terminals are in the process of being privatised, the port of Valletta has over the past years been gradually introducing an enhanced private participation in the management of the ports through the conclusion of leases and concessions.

These successes however do not overshadow inherent problems existing within our ports, particularly as regards the overall organisation of services in the ports and certain labour-related issues. Only recently the Maritime Authority had commissioned a report on the ports, which while underlining the intrinsic potential of Valletta, recommends a thorough rethinking on the whole management set-up.

This was followed up by the setting up of a Ports Consultative Council within which all stake-holders could contribute to Government in recommending certain measures which would better upgrade the final ports product.

Recommendations include the development of a National Ports Policy, the establishment of a harbour authority based on the landlord model and a way forward towards the gradual introduction of a much-needed port reform.

These developments must be considered within the current and much wider scenario that shall in a not too distant future lead towards Malta becoming a member of the European Union. The Transport Chapter was provisionally closed last year and at the moment my Ministry together with the Maritime Authority is in the process of transposing the relevant acquis into Maltese legislation in accordance with the Maritime Action Plan.

When it comes to ports, over the past few years, the Community has embarked on the process of further regulating the ports sector within the context of the EU Common Transport Policy. The recent directive proposal on Market Access to Port Services shall reconfigure and thoroughly re-dimension the current diverse complexity of port management bodies. Although it appears that it shall be some time before the directive comes into force due to the controversy which the proposal generated amongst member states, the Malta Maritime Authority is keeping abreast with these developments in order to be in a position to timely comply with the relative new modus operandi.

Whilst recognising the requirement of ascertaining transparency and harmonisation in ports affairs, one cannot but emphasise the fact that most of the successes experienced to date emanate particularly from the diversity prevailing within the port management institutions.

Malta is very active in the international fora relating to ports and shipping. Malta is a member on the Council of the International Maritime Organsiation. Malta also participates in such projects as the Euro-Med ports, the Eumidis programme, the MedChartNet and ECO-Ports project. Moreover the Malta Maritime Authority is a member of the European Sea Ports Organisation and the International Hydrographic Organsiation. The Maritime Authority is a founder member of the MedCruise Organisation which seeks to promote the Mediterranean cruise ports amongst the industry.

The participation in such fora provides our maritime industry with the opportunity to continuously keep abreast with developments in the maritime sector whilst consolidating its excellent collaboration with its European counterparts and partners. Although a small island it is strongly believed that Malta has a lot to contribute towards the further development of the ports industry, shipping in general and towards the strengthening of trade relationships particularly in the Mediterranean.

Malta’s economy is primarily focussed on the services industry with its human resource being its greatest asset. In this respect considerable importance is given to the advancement of its employees at all levels in the art and science of maritime transport. Over the past years the islands have excelled in the provision of further education both at academic level and at shop-floor level.

It is indeed an honour for Malta to be in a position to host the International Maritime Law Institute for graduates in the legal maritime profession. Last year the Maritime Institute was established within the precincts of the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology. For the past three years the Malta Maritime Authority has conducted the Port Policy and Management Advanced Course for personnel employed in the ports sector in Commonwealth countries. These initiatives are complemented with personnel attending post-graduate courses in foreign universities and colleges.

It is recognised that in order to be able to sustain the success of our ports and shipping industry in general, it is imperative that the industry complements the advancement in the technological sphere with highly qualified personnel. Only in such way could the present competitive edge of our ports be sustained whilst preparing ourselves with a view to be able to successfully meet the new challenges of the future. Such challenges range from having an adequate administrative capacity to promulgate and implement legislation while facilitating the industry to being in a position to retain and possibly expand the market share in an industry where competition amongst ports is cut-throat.

On the other hand competition between ports should not debar harbour authorities and terminal operators from joining forces within established organisations by way of promoting the interests of ports in general. This is the case with the European Sea Ports Organisation and the Federation of European Private Port Operators.

Ports require to be integrated within their adjoining region as focus of a sustainable development. Agreements and co-operation between regional ports concerning their tasks and their volumes of traffic should be developed. Rules concerning financing and charging as well as rules designed to harmonise working conditions should be drawn up.

The discussion could be further extended to the relationship between the ship operator and the terminal operator. One can not exist without the other.

In conclusion I would restrict myself towards defining ports as nodal points in the transportation and logistic chain. Ports should be considered differently from the rest of the transport industry and hence legislation as applicable to the transport industry in general may not be conducive towards having more effective and efficient ports. If the Maltese ports were to be appraised as a pilot project one would instantly conclude that the requirements of the two ports, only some ten kilometres away from each other, are inherently different and hence require different solutions.

The fact that the Mediterranean is becoming more important to the maritime transport industry is a fact that cannot be denied. The recent developments in the French, Italian and Spanish ports stand to witness and justify these last years success in the management of Mediterranean ports. This could only be attained by Governments realising the need to carry out gradual port reforms and by believing in the potential of these ports.

I wish the organisers and the distinguished delegates every success in holding this important conference in Malta. I do hope that you do enjoy your stay on these islands and long forward towards being in a better position to concretely collaborate in the success of Mediterranean ports.


Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
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