Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon
The Mission of the Malta Maritime Forum (MMF) is there to “fly the flag” and promote the interests of the maritime community in the face of the continuous challenges that face the industry.
Among various initiatives taken to better fulfil its objective of representing and informing the industry, the MMF recently signed an agreement with the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) aimed at granting the MMF wider exposure on the MEA media, which are most relevant to the maritime community, namely the online MEA Index platform and the popular MEA TV programme.
In fact, the MMF has important messages to convey to key stakeholders, not least the authorities to whom two flagship documents articulated this year were addressed. The first document was a set of concrete proposals for the 2022 Budget in which the MMF advocated the need for financial support for maritime operators to build resources and capacity which will enable them to meet the current challenges and obligations. Like every other business, maritime operators are being expected to embrace and manage the so-called “twin transitions” of digitalisation and the green economy. The challenges and regulatory demands arising from climate change strategies are extremely onerous and the maritime industry needs to build capacity and know-how to enable it to face the transformations. In this context, the MMF is encouraged that government has heeded the European Commission’s advice and earmarked more than half of the Recovery and Resilience Facility allocation for Malta for green projects and shall offer its advice on efficient projects that facilitate the channelling of such funds in support of maritime operators.
Indeed, digitalisation needs to be implemented at full-scale among maritime operations and at all levels since it is a key driver for a successful green transition and the fulfilment of the EU’s ambitious Green Deal objectives. Besides, as amply manifested during Covid-19, digitalisation is also a key enabler to render businesses – including those in maritime – more resilient to shocks and more economically and socially sustainable.
In recent months, the MMF also formulated a document entitled A maritime-centred electoral manifesto, which the MMF presented in person to the leaders of the political parties ahead of the next general election. The document merely puts into words the opinions and suggestions which the MMF collated from members that operate in the industry. Key among the 10 tangible proposals contained in the document was the need for the country to re-establish a national entity solely responsible for the maritime industry.
For some time, members of the MMF noted that with the amalgamation of a number of entities and departments into Transport Malta, the priority required by the maritime industry on both the national and international levels had become diluted in other overall responsibilities covered by Transport Malta including aviation and transport. From the MMF’s perspective, the country was ahead of time and its competition when it established a Malta Maritime Authority in 1991. This had provided Malta with a competitive edge over other important maritime jurisdictions, which advantage has now been lost.
The announcement made by Minister Ian Borg that Transport Malta would be de-merged into three separate entities namely road transport, aviation and maritime affairs was welcomed by the Forum and its members. Transport Malta had performed its role well over the past 12 years as reflected by Malta’s prime position in terms of ship registrations. The new direction taken by government, however, did justice to the significant contribution made by the industry to the islands’ socio-economic development. After all, members of the MMF are competing in a global village where specialisation is key. The fact that government listened and acted on the Forum’s advice sends the right message to the industry about Malta’s aspirations of consolidating its position on a global scale.
Recent developments have shown how the MMF is continuously gaining in stature and in its position as the natural interlocutor with the authorities for the maritime industry. The Forum is engaged in regular talks with government and the Regulator on all matters concerning the industry and was pleased that discussions concerning the re-establishment of a focused entity for maritime affairs have returned a positive outcome. The MMF shall now pledge its full support to the Working Group appointed to advise the minister on the de-merger process with a view to ensure a smooth and timely transition for all concerned, not least the operators in the industry.