11 DECEMBER 2002
More on the Maltese maritime fleet
Spains oil spill afflicted northern beaches and the resulting hundreds of dying seabirds and mammals have created a nasty reaction from the general public.
It is also bad news that Maltese-flagged tankers are being refused entry into Spanish and Portuguese ports.
The Maltese flag is an easy target, but it represents the fifth-largest fleet in the world and more importantly the second largest fleet in Europe.
The political Juans and the Pedros can be seen to be doing something to erase the memory of the nothing they had done before.
The political reaction to the sinking of the Prestige, a Bahamian-registered vessel, is fuelled by electoral considerations. Since the Maltese flag has been associated with the Erika disaster an aversion to anything Maltese has emerged.
The French Navy has also sailed out, shooing a Maltese tanker out of French waters. This is outstanding hypocrisy and media spin.
We say this because, in the fuss over single-hulled tankers, over 70 per cent of all floating vessels are sealed by a Brussels based agreement that Malta and Cyprus have committed themselves to respect at all costs. Of all the tankers in the world, 5,243 of the world fleet are single hulled. They obviously cannot be phased out immediately without causing economic and political problems.
That is, that by the year 2015 (in 12 years time) all single-hulled tankers will be phased out and replaced by double hulled or something else to that effect.
The European Unions original proposal was 2026; Malta supported the 2015 proposal. Are we to believe that there are no single-hulled tankers in the French, Spanish and Portuguese fleets? As one can imagine, this is not the case.
Maltas fleet is the second largest in Europe and it greatly depends on European ports. Today, the percentage of Maltese vessels impounded in ports is down from some 18 to seven per cent.
What is more interesting is that the Prestige was not even noted as a vessel on the white list that is a vessel not in the danger list.
Inspections on Maltas maritime fleet have improved since the Erika tragedy on the Morbihan coast of Bretagne - surely more needs to be done. Are we expected to be ahead of international requirements?
Needless to say, though direct income from the maritime fleet only contributes one per cent to Maltas GDP in real terms the spill over (to use a dirty word) effect is far greater.
We need to keep this fleet and we need to support efforts to embrace high standards within the Maltese fleet. But in doing so, we should support Malta when it accuses Spain and Portugal of unfair treatment. The silly reports on Super One aimed at embarrassing Malta combine shoddy reporting with inverted patriotism.
This is stuff that makes Maltas foreign policy worthy of its name. Go for it, guys. Above all don't take it lying down.