Let’s stop taking the maritime industry for granted

The facts and figures relating to how much the maritime industry contributes to the Maltese economy have been referenced countless times and they are substantial. I will not quote them here as this information is quite easily attainable to anyone who searches the plethora of articles on this subject.

What is irritating many people working in this industry is that such income is being taken for granted and there is a sense that this stream of capital can always be relied upon. Of course this style of thinking needs to be eradicated. Competition out there is stiff and other countries are more than eager to take a piece of our cake.

Malta must ensure that it continually reinvents itself and that it keeps up with the exigencies and wishes of the shipping world. We also need to realise that there are missed opportunities in this sector and that we have certainly not exploited it to its full potential.  There is clear awareness concerning the serious need to rehash our economic model to one which is more reliant on qualitative work– Well there is an opportunity staring us right in the eyes. If we consolidate what we have, there is so much more we can get out of the maritime industry as an established maritime nation…what are we waiting for??

It is high time that we have a designated Minister responsible solely for Maritime affairs. Again, many have lamented about the fact that allocating most of our maritime matters to the Transport and Infrastructure Ministry (which encapsulates roads, infrastructure and all forms of transport) is too much for one individual to lead. In addition, keeping the Merchant Shipping Directorate under the general Transport Malta umbrella is not sending the right message to the international stakeholders, nor is it ensuring that young talent is attracted towards pursuing a maritime related career both in the public and private sector.

I need to be fair at this stage, as it would be wrong to paint a picture of complete doom and gloom. Both the government and the opposition seem to be united when it comes to the maritime sector and are intent on putting petty politics aside when discussing this area. I can also report that there have been very productive meetings held with the government and opposition over the past few months and that both sides are willing to listen to the stakeholders and understand concerns. Relatively recent developments such as the announcement of a specialised commercial court (which will also deal with maritime claims) cannot but be commended as it will improve the overall maritime product. The appointment of a new CEO at Transport Malta, hailing from the private industry, again is another indicator that there is genuine goodwill for matters to move in the right direction.

Having said this, we are simply not reacting quickly enough and that the more significant decisions are being postponed or unnecessarily delayed. We need to better capitalise on our size and exploit the fact that there seems to be a collective goodwill and ambition for this industry.

We also need to have a genuine game plan for this industry and avoid the temptation of attempting to tackle all of the issues at once as we risk becoming ineffective. Let’s push the idea of a common maritime policy which has identified and realistic objectives with attainable timelines.  The government understands that it enjoys the full support of the private industry and that associations such as the Malta Maritime Law Association and the Malta Maritime Forum are able and willing to partake and actively assist in reaching goals and exploiting this segment to the full.

We need to start thinking long term, tackle infrastructural issues, attract human resources to this industry, create specialised educational courses and finally make the general public realise and appreciate the importance and potential there is in promoting a Maritime based economy.

The time for this is now, let’s not miss the boat.

This article was first published in The Times of Malta on 04/09/2023.