The Malta Maritime Forum was officially set up last October through the registration of the forum as a NGO and a legal personality. This development was a logical next step in the history of the local maritime industry, which is entwined with Malta’s history.

Coming to the more recent history of the local maritime industry, an enormous debt is owed to our predecessors, who had the foresight to lay down sound foundations for this industry to grow and develop in a robust and solid manner. In claiming that today Malta is a maritime centre of international repute does little justice if not put within the perspective of the overall historical development of the industry.

The Merchant Shipping Act of Malta, enacted in 1973, owes its origins to the professional legal minds and policymakers who have been a permanent feature of this industry. Singling out individuals to be named risks doing injustice to those not named and hence suffice to say that Maltese legal personalities and policymakers are up to the present time enhancing the maritime industry not only locally but even at international levels.

The Merchant Shipping Act of Malta permitted the development of the Malta flag as one of the leading international flags and which today stands as the sixth largest worldwide and the first ranking flag on a European level.

Moving on chronologically, one can mention the setting up of the Malta Freeport Corporation and Malta Freeport Terminals in 1988, the establishment of the International Maritime Law Institute and the Malta Maritime Authority, which was unfortunately absorbed within Transport Malta in later years and still cries out for its proper unique identity.

Coming to even more recent years, the maritime industry underwent a process of privatisation, which saw the public authorities assume more of a regulatory role while giving scope to private enterprise and initiative. Indeed, it was this very spirit of private enterprise which created the local maritime society.

The setting up of Viset in 2010 brought into play a new dimension, namely that of attracting to Malta the cruise line services that today account for over half a million cruise passengers visiting Malta every year. When talking of figures, it is also pertinent to point out that today:

• 6,667 vessels are registered under the Malta flag;

• three million containers were handled at MFT in 2015;

• An average of one million tons of cargo are handled through the port of Valletta annually;

• Over 11,000 ships called at Maltese ports in 2015;

• Over 1.5 million tons of bunker oils were sold last year;

• 770 participants from 135 states have graduated through IMLI since its setting up.

On an international level, Malta has its representatives on the executive council of the IMO, which is the highest international maritime organisation, as well as on the executive council of the Comité Maritime International, a leadingworld authority on maritime law.

This is the heritage that the Malta Maritime Forum has inherited and which places a responsibility of debt owed to our predecessors as well as to our future generations, who deserve an even stronger and prosperous industry.

The Maritime Forum, chaired by former European commissioner Joe Borg, is made up of a very linear structure, whereby the prime seat is the general assembly. That is where all members meet to discuss matters of main concern and to elect a board of directors, which is today made up of 12 people. The membership of the Maritime Forum is a reflection of the local industry and comprises representatives from the terminals, ship repair yard, ship owners, unions (GRTU and Malta Dockers Union), shipping agents, port service providers and legal professionals. It is a mixture of interests, views and aspirations but above all it is a common platform intended to represent the local maritime industry.

In response to the challenges and prospects that the industry has to address, the forum has set up a number of sub-committees, each entrusted with specific areas of focus such as training and education, quality and standards, marketing and internationalisation, ports services and sea management, marine resources, culture and heritage and the promotion for membership.

It has also embarked on an extensive agenda, with introductory meetings held with the Minister for Transport, the Minister for the Economy, Investment and Small Business and the Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness and Economic Growth, as well as meetings with Trade Malta, where discussions are in hand to ensure that the industry is included in the agendas of trade missions and ministerial missions overseas.

Regular meetings are held with Transport Malta, who have been very supportive of the forum’s initiatives. These meetings address issues the various maritime sectors put forward.

In line with this direction, the Malta Maritime Forum was invited by Transport Minister Joe Mizzi to form part of the Joint Maritime Commission the government has set up between Mata and Turkey and a representative of the MMF has been invited to sit on the board of directors of the recently launched Malta Marittima.

The objects of the forum are very clear, namely:

• To promote the interests of the Maltese maritime industry;

• To assist in the development of new maritime activities;

• To promote research, education and training within the Maltese maritime industry;

• To act as a constituted body so as to consult and be consulted by the government in the development of public policies that can have a bearing on the Maltese maritime industry.

The road ahead is long and not without its challenges. However, the stakeholders within our maritime industry have realised that having a common platform promoting the interest of the industry is a guarantee for future development. The interplay and relationship building between the public sector and the maritime industry is of essence for shared objectives and successes.

Godwin Xerri is managing director of Combined Maritime Services Ltd, which is a member of the Malta Maritime Forum.

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