The European Union has, since its foundation, recognised the relevance of facilitating the free movement of goods between its Member States as this fosters trade and growth.

Over the years, the EU gave more impetus to short sea shipping (SSS), which can be considered as the movement of cargo by sea both intra Europe, as well as between EU Member States and other countries in the proximity of Europe, such as those bordering the Mediterranean.

In 2001 the EU launched the concept of SSS which laid down the basic objectives, namely: freight flow concentration on sea-based logistical routes; increased cohesion; and reducing road congestion through modal shift.

The EU came to the conclusion that SSS offers a set of positive features that no other mode of transport can provide, especially in relation to the environmental considerations for the transport of large volumes of cargo.

This European outlook has a geo-economic relevance in that around 70 per cent of European industrial production is located within 150-200km from sea, 40 per cent of EU population live in EU coastal regions, and there are over 1,200 commercial seaports operating along EU coasts that cover a length of 70,000km.

To promote this modal shift, the EU set up specific financing programmes including: the Pilot Action for Combined Transport between 1997-2001 with a fund of €22.4 million, €102 million in Marco Polo I between 2003-2006, €450 million in Marco Polo II between 2007 and 2011 and €8 billion on the Ten T programme between 2007-2013.

The question is how much has Malta benefitted from these programmes and what can Malta do to integrate itself better into these schemes?

Malta has a unique position in the reality of SSS because the lack of a domestic market is amply overcome by the fact that Malta is an island and relies on the sea for its trade. Hence the relevance of these EU programmes should not be underestimated because Malta has a crucial role to play and stands to benefit financially if the local maritime industry is in line with the mechanics of such funding programmes.

One of the areas that Malta has to address is the removal of bureaucratic obstacles that hinder the free flow of cargo. As things stand at present, cargo imported in containers is discriminated against when compared with cargo arriving by trailer. Whereas the latter mode of transport is afforded direct clearance from port and delivery to the receiver, containers suffer a longer port stay even if only in terms of days.

Our port infrastructure has to be developed to permit more berths for vessels calling at Malta. For this purpose the EU votes substantial funding to assist in the infrastructural development of ports, terminals and warehousing. The local approach whereby ports and terminals are considered to be a public service, needs readdressing through private public partnerships in order to attract investment in these sectors both by local enterprise as well as foreign entities. After all, this is already evidenced in Malta through the models of Malta Freeport Terminals, Valletta Gateway Terminal and Valletta Cruise Port.

Development of other terminals and berths in Malta should not be considered a public investment exercise, but rather a means to attract private investment from within this sector. Such a development can be eligible for partial funding through the Motorways of the Sea Pillar 11, which is earmarked for port infrastructure and upgrade of maritime links. The intention on this EU finance package is to develop port infrastructure, handling facilities, freight terminals and logistics platforms to improve port access.

If one were to look at the experiences of other European countries, such as Spain, Italy, Norway and Finland, one can note a number of projects which these countries managed to realise within the ambit of short sea shipping and financed, in part or in full by EU funds.

Although Malta is synonymous with the role of a maritime nation, enough is never enough, and the next step is to develop a comprehensive long-term plan for our ports infrastructure, together with a marketing plan to prioritise the activities best suited for our ports in terms of cost and benefit. Moreover, Malta should embark on an investment promotion campaign aimed specifically at attractive investment in maritime infrastructure.

A forum such as the Malta Maritime Forum is the ideal vehicle to co-ordinate such efforts together with government, so that we produce a cohesive and comprehensive programme.

The land limitation should not be a deterrent to further development in this area which, as evidenced by developments in other European countries can be undertaken within the balance of environmental and socio-political exigencies.

From research undertaken by our company, we have established that there are over 170 different shipping services going by Malta on a west-east Mediterranean trajectory and another 50 on a north to south axis. If Malta were to attract even a small fraction of this short sea traffic, Malta’s seaborne trade would increase exponentially generating a multiplier of economic activity that is characteristic of the maritime industry.

Godwin Xerri is managing director of Combined Maritime Services and a member of the Malta Maritime Forum. The opinion expressed by the author does not necessarily reflect the position of the Malta Maritime Forum.

Source: Times of Malta

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