Dr Matthew Attard addressed the full hall at the Malta Chamber of Commerce where the local maritime community and international guests came together on 30th May 2023 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Merchant Shipping Act.
Distinguished guests, colleagues and friends,
We are all here in order to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Merchant Shipping Act and as a maritime lawyer, I am particularly proud of the fact that we are acknowledging the importance that the law has played in building our shipping services sector.
The Maltese Merchant Shipping Act is a well designed and formulated piece of legislation, that has over the years been amended and revised a number of times in order for it to keep up with the needs of the shipping community, whilst also embracing international legislative developments. More than anything, it is a law which still serves as a standard bearer to our industry. It is worth pointing out that the Maritime industry in Malta served as a platform to build our financial services practice.
We are very fortunate to have with us this afternoon, notable figures who were the protagonists of the time. People who were not only heavily involved in drafting and piloting the law, yet who also were also capable of promoting and selling the vision of Malta as a shipping nation. To them we owe our gratitude and recognition. Subsequent generations, as well as the current one, have followed in their footsteps and work hard towards ensuring that Malta remains relevant in this sphere and keeps up with the challenges of the times.
The current regulatory framework is certainly more complex than it was in 1973. For one thing, the International Maritime Organisation has introduced a plethora of conventions aimed at increasing the safety of life at sea and the protection of the Marine environment. The European Union has further contributed by setting higher standards for shipping that required adherence by member states. All of these changes have had to be transposed into our laws and adopted.
In recent history, the Anti Money laundering drive has also been a game changer for our modus operandi and has had an impact on our industry and forced us to rethink our approaches and procedures. The implementation of Sanctions caused by the Russian/Ukrainian conflict are yet another challenge that has hit us all hard and has further complicated our lives.
Upcoming issues such as Artificial Intelligence and the regulation of Unmanned vessels were certainly not headaches which our predecessors had to encounter, God only knows what else lies in store for us all!
The Malta Maritime Law Association (which will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary next year) has always been active in assisting the government of the day in updating and amending our shipping legislation, discussing challenges as well as identifying opportunities. It is very comforting to know that we have always been supported in doing so by the all the governments, the opposition and the Registrar Generals who, even to this day, are all very aware of the fact that the Maritime industry in Malta has managed to make great inroads in this field because it was capable of understanding the power of presenting a united front.
Malta is certainly a success story in this area, yet it would be foolish for anyone to take this industry for granted and disregard the fierce competition out there as well as the volatility of the market itself. In this respect, we have a duty to keep listening, an obligation to understand the aspirations of our clients and where possible, adapt or compromise.
It is critical, as a key player in the Maritime world, that Malta ensures that a proper and fair balance is met between the international legislative demands and the requirements of the industry itself. We have to remain practical and pragmatic. Laws must be introduced sensitively and intelligently into our system and more than that, need to be properly interpreted by those tasked with implementing them, so that solutions can be provided to the end user, whenever the opportunity arises. Just like the Malta Merchant Shipping Act, Laws need to be regarded as a tool for obtaining success and reaching goals, rather than creating obstacles and increasing costs unnecessarily.
I’m sure you will agree that the Malta most of us dream of seeing in the future is one where we have more tangible presence of the Maritime industry on our shores. Where people who opt to operate the Malta flag, also choose Malta as one of their bases for their venture. We need to encourage substance and genuine links to the jurisdiction. Although we have skilled professionals and solid foundations to build upon, we must be able to attract new people to this world.
We also have a duty to make the next generation interested in pursuing a career in this field and further incentivise the public sector so that they too can be proud of what they have achieved and are hungry to achieve more in the years to come.
I want to reassure you all, that Malta is not sitting on its laurels and that we are not satisfied with the status quo. We understand that there is still much to improve and fine tune and in this respect a lot of work is currently being seen to behind the scenes without much fanfare. I hope to see some of these initiatives unveiled and presented in the coming months.
I once again wish to pay tribute to all those individuals (many of them here) for their effort and resilience, for being pioneers and for managing to grow our industry from scratch through perseverance and creativity. I also wish to thank my colleagues, both from the private and public sector who on a daily basis show me what the Maritime industry means to them through their professionalism and dedication.
My hope is that we continue nurturing our sector, never take it for granted and that we will be able to leave it in a better state than we found it, so that 50 years from now, our successors will be able to celebrate Maritime Malta with the same enthusiasm and vigour we have here today..