Malta summit aims to get shipping industry ‘talking together’, says organiser

Malta Shipping Summit organiser John A. Gauci-Maistre K.M. tells Lloyd’s List the launch of a major maritime event for Malta was overdue. He looks forward to a conference that focuses on the industry’s pressing concerns, including debate on whether the EU is positive enough towards shipping

John A. Gauci-Maistre: “Malta is more than ever before an international player in the maritime sector and the intention is to get the industry talking together.”

MALTA, the world’s sixth-largest ship registry, is hosting a cross-section of world shipping this week as part of its second Malta Maritime Summit.

The first event, two years ago, was partly triggered by Malta’s upcoming turn at the revolving presidency of the European Council and had governmental enthusiasm and a tailwind of expectation.

This year tests the event’s credentials as a permanent feature of the maritime calendar, positioned deliberately in the alternate year to Maritime Cyprus.

But the relatively recent appearance of a major international shipping get-together in Malta masks perceptions that it is filling a gap that should not have existed in the first place, according to organiser John A. Gauci-Maistre.

The multifaceted Mr. Gauci-Maistre, whose entrepreneurial career has embraced everything from the first Maltese discount shopper’s card and home computing to hotels, tourism and gaming, should know.

Often cited as the man who first put Malta on the shipping map, he was first awakened to the potential of newly independent Malta as a registry by an inquiry regarding yachts.

Following the breakaway of the flag from the Red Ensign and the island’s own Merchant Shipping Act of 1973, he set about single-handedly promoting the flag abroad.

His company, GM International, was a solitary presence at major industry exhibitions and conferences in Europe, North America and Asia.

Meanwhile, he personally wore out a lot of shoe leather tramping the Akti Miaouli, the famous kilometre of Greek shipping offices in Piraeus.

“I was going door to door and even room to room in those buildings with many smaller shipping companies,” he said. “It was tough convincing any Greek owners to give Malta a try.”

But, finally, a first oceangoing vessel was registered in December 1978 — 40 years ago this year — when Greece-based Thenamaris agreed to register the dry cargo vessel Elmare. The Martinos shipping family continue to be a mainstay of the registry to this day.

As registrations from the Greek market began to trickle in, in an age without the ease of faxes, scanners or email, Mr. Gauci-Maistre found himself making one, or sometimes two, weekly visits to Greece to deliver documents by hand. Typically, he would then attend a dinner, or sometimes two, before catching a pre-dawn return flight.

Today he is proud to see Malta’s position in European and world shipping.

Challenges to surmount included overcoming widespread ignorance of Malta, but also that the original Maltese shipping legislation was disadvantageous to banks in terms of liens. Therefore, the realistic target group was limited mainly to ships that had been bought with cash.

That changed in 1987 when the legislation was modernised and the fleet began to expand at a faster rate.

As a registry, Malta stands above China, Bahamas and Japan in terms of tonnage with about 2,200 vessels of about 109m dwt.

It has become comfortably the largest fleet in the European Union, ahead of Greece with about 72m dwt and Cyprus with about 35m dwt.

The three southern European flags have several common causes, being heavily reliant on Greek owners and overwhelmingly invested in global, oceangoing cargo shipping rather than shortsea or specialised tonnage.

As such, they have recently been stepping up co-ordination of their positions in respect to EU policies and, as was the case with the first Malta Maritime Summit, Valletta’s Grand Harbour will host a tripartite ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the conference.

“All flags offer more or less the same and Malta has no fiscal advantage over other flags,” said Mr. Gauci-Maistre. “But we have a very good reputation and the administration has a listening ear to what the industry is saying. That is crucial. In addition, when we need to get legislation through, we get it done quickly.”

He says Malta is well placed to highlight the needs of the industry.

“Malta is more than ever before an international player in the maritime sector and the intention is to get the industry talking together, to keep awareness up and bring to the fore the realities the shipping industry is facing,” he said.

Key conference sessions include a consideration of the impact of Malta’s ‘Valletta Declaration’ for the industry two years ago, analysis of how geopolitical turbulence is affecting shipping markets, women in shipping, the challenge of the 2020 sulphur cap, new financing solutions for the industry and cyber security.

As was the case with the first summit, the intra-EU identity of Malta’s shipping business will feature heavily in discussion.

“I am very pro-EU but unfortunately it often enough seems to be attacking shipping,” he said. “This is a wonderful and massive industry and the EU should be proactively encouraging growth. Instead of this they sometimes seem, unknowingly, to be stifling it.”

He says it is frustrating that Brussels took five years to examine Malta’s shipping regime, wrapping it up this year with “few changes”. A similarly lengthy investigation of Greece is ongoing.

“I can understand the politics of it, but administratively it is incomprehensible that it should take so long, leaving things unsettled for so many years. If there was something terribly wrong it should have been dealt with quickly and everyone move on,” he said. “It should not be hard to understand that unless you operate an EU flag competitively, shipowners and shipmanagers will go elsewhere.”


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