The Malta Maritime Forum has spent the past few weeks evalua­ting and discussing the most urgent and pressing needs of the maritime industry ahead of an electoral campaign which could be called sooner or later at the discretion of the prime minister.

The outcome of discussions was collated in a document which was presented to the leaders of the major political parties on July 15.

The initiative was taken as part of the forum’s mission to serve as a maritime cluster and a common platform for the maritime industry in Malta for the purposes of influencing national maritime policy and facilitating communication between industry players and the country’s policymakers.

The MMF’s evaluations were framed within the context of the current extraordinary circumstances at the global level, to which the maritime transport industry is naturally exposed, the strategic and economic importance the industry assumes at a macro level and the threats and opportunities that face it.

Among the former, the forum is very conscious of the potential negative fall-out and impact of Malta’s greylisting on the industry, especially through the intrinsic links that exist between the mari­time industry and the banking and insurance sectors in financial services. In this context, therefore, it is even more crucial that the maritime industry, being one in which Malta excels in and leads on an international level, be promoted and bolstered.

The document presented by the MMF represents a mari­time-centred electoral manifesto containing 10 concrete proposals. The document presented to Malta’s political leaders aims to give due importance in the national policymaking context to the maritime industry, in particularly those who work and invest in it.

The MMF’s flagship recommendation is for a new, incoming administration to appoint a minister solely responsible for maritime affairs and the blue economy. The MMF contends that it does little justice to the country’s foremost global position in the mari­time field that the respon­sibili­ties pertaining to mari­time affairs are absorbed into general transport affairs and which, in turn, are further diluted into a portfolio comprising several other important responsibilities within the current mega-ministry.

This dilution is considered symptomatic of a general underestimation of the maritime industry’s strategic and economic importance. Besides, it is certainly a state of affairs that does not give the right signals about the country’s aspirations to defend and con­solidate its position of strength and excellence.

Besides, the industry maintains that having a dedicated ministry would allow for better focus on its ever-growing needs and challenges while enabling the country to participate more actively in international fora and dis­cussions that have a bearing on the Maltese maritime industry.

For reasons similar to the above, the MMF is recommending the re-establishment of a national entity solely responsible for the maritime industry. Naturally, the new dedicated entity must be armed with adequate resources, technology and technical know-how to fulfil the highest expectations of Malta’s international client base.

A properly implemented National Maritime Transport Policy could give the country the tools it needs to harness Malta’s full potential of the blue economy

The forum is aware that Malta was ahead of the pack way back in 1991 when the Malta Maritime Authority was established, so much so that the example was emulated by others, including the UK, Greece and Cyprus. Once again, the MMF strongly feels that the heightened competitive and regulatory environment of the industry merits a national authority dedicated to maritime affairs.

Linked to the above proposals, the Malta Maritime Forum is recommending the establishment of a dedicated mari­time court. The forum salutes the extraordinary efforts made by the judiciary in dealing with existing maritime cases in an expeditious and timely manner. Nevertheless, in light of the expanse and breath of maritime cases, the increasing specialisation in maritime law and the expectations of the industry, the forum is now calling for the availability of specialised and dedicated judges to satisfy international expectations for the efficient and effective processing of cases concerning a myriad of issues which sooner or later could find themselves before a Maltese court.

The forum is pleased to note that the government is moving in the right direction by agreeing to extend the jurisdiction/competence of the Civil Court (Commercial Section) to maritime affairs (among other matters) ­– a decision which the forum has already wholeheartedly endorsed in public.

To this end, it has further contributed by submitting concrete proposals in writing to the authorities with respect to the modus operandi and range and scope of this extended competence. This direction of travel is deemed complementary to the country’s role and aspirations to continue to serve the region and beyond as a centre of excellence in the maritime field.

In its representations to the political leaders, the MMF acknowledged Malta’s National Transport Strategy but noted the absence of a specific policy document dedicated to the maritime industry. Such a docu­ment is required to provide statements of principle, objectives and direction to interested stakeholders. The docu­ment would ideally spell out the government’s vision and goals for the maritime industry.

The forum contends that besides contributing to ensure that the industry is governed in an efficient, consistent, sustainable, safe and environmentally sound manner, a properly implemented National Mari­time Transport Policy could give the country the tools it needs to harness Malta’s full potential of the blue economy.

In this context, the forum insisted that political leaders and national authorities offer their full, unrelenting and concrete backing to local and foreign investors in the maritime industry. The forum advised authorities to consult wherever necessary with individual operators and with the MMF itself on matters of policy which are material to investment decisions. Political leaders were reminded that Malta and key private sector mari­time operators are competing in a global village and they expect nothing less than investor-friendly conditions.

At the same time, the forum called for a clear and properly communicated programme of infrastructural works within the ports of Malta with deadlines for completion.

While warning against underestimating the strategic and economic importance of the maritime industry to the country, the forum made further recommendations regarding education and skills availability in the industry, as well as about reviewing some outdated regulatory/enforcement parameters and work practices within the maritime industry which inhibit the development of new business.

With this in mind, the Malta Maritime Forum recommen­ded a more maritime-centred approach to national policy by giving more focus and importance to matters relating to the maritime industry and those who invest in it.

Kevin J. Borg, CEO, Malta Maritime Forum

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