For this edition of our Port pro of the month, we are taking you to Malta. We are meeting Joseph Bugeja, who leads Transport Malta, the authority responsible for the regulation of all modes of transport in Malta, including ports. He has been heading Transport Malta since July 2018. Now, one year after his appointment, we thought it was a good time to have an interview with Joseph Bugeja.
On 5 July 2018, you were officially appointed as the new Chairman and CEO of Transport Malta. First of all, can you briefly explain Transport Malta and its role in the Maltese port landscape?
Transport Malta is the Authority responsible for the regulation of all modes of transport in Malta: land, aviation and maritime. As the national regulator of such a vital and challenging industry for an Island nation like Malta, the Authority is one of the most dynamic and “wide in scope” Government Authorities. Nonetheless, the Authority has registered constant growth and sets new records across all transport segments. At the same time, managing such a crucial industry for the country brings about daunting challenges that are constantly evolving.
If we were to focus on the maritime sector, the Malta Ship Register, the national shipping registry managed by Transport Malta, has grown not only in numbers but also in repute, and today the country is increasingly adding high-class ships to its fleet. Amongst the various factors attributable to such success, the good quality of the service provided could be mentioned, backed by various initiatives and strategies in favour of the industry that offer a holistic package recognised by ship owners worldwide. Within this scenario, blue chip companies are increasingly being attracted to the Malta Flag, consolidating further the registry’s stature as a true Flag of Confidence.
The opportunities that can be provided by Malta in this sector stem from the Islands’ rich maritime heritage with a cultural legacy intimately linked to the sea that is unique in the Mediterranean. This tradition has also transpired through Malta’s legal tradition in maritime affairs which contributed to the formulation of the Maltese initiative at the 1967 United Nations General Assembly that culminated in the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Malta’s natural, deep sheltered harbours and position on major shipping routes (indeed its geographical position places it a mere 6 nautical miles off the main Mediterranean sea-route between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal) have been mainly responsible for the country’s development as a maritime centre and established it as a major entry port for trade and bunkering stations.
The two main harbours in Malta are complimentary to each other, providing a wider variety of maritime related services. The Grand Harbour offers a comprehensive service covering practically all maritime requirements; a service that reflects the knowledge, commitment and attention that the Maltese maritime community is today well renowned for. The other main Port, Marsaxlokk, consists of the container terminal and industrial storage facilities which are operated by the Malta Freeport Terminals that, since its establishment in 1988, has registered remarkable growth and is now a leading maritime transshipment logistic hub, the third largest transshipment port in the Mediterranean region, enjoying positive international recognition with global carriers as a reliable and credible port.
How did you get into maritime transport? How did your career path lead to this position?
My 46-year career in the maritime and logistics sector started in the early 1970s at the time when Malta was moving away from being a military base, building its own economy and vying for industrial development opportunities. This is when the country was creating new employment opportunities and shifting from military shipping to commercial shipping. Obviously, ancillary activities like customs clearance, freight forwarding and logistics were amongst the first opportunities that were created. In fact, these sectors provided my first work experiences. In early 1974, Malta established its own National Shipping Company and I was one of the first people to join the newly setup company in April 1974. At that time, this was a golden opportunity as I got firsthand experience in the various operational and managerial aspects of the maritime sector including ship agency representation, cargo and passenger operations, bunker sales, regular liner service management and marketing & sales.
This move proved to be my catalyst moment for my career which led me to the post of General Manager, which I held until 2005. I gave my full commitment to the company I represented and became more passionate about maritime transport and logistics. After 32 years at Sea Malta, I joined Grimaldi Group of Naples in 2006 as the company’s General Manager. I was determined to pursue the success achieved earlier in my career in this new venture. My major focus was the development of Motorways of the Sea and for the next 12 years I took responsibility for the development and implementation of a very ambitious long-term business plan which entailed the development of roll-on roll-off maritime services. This proved to be another successful and extremely satisfying stage of my career which was also very rewarding for the Group as it became one of the leading shipping companies at the Grand Harbour and in the Med.
Throughout my career, I also had the opportunity to have more insight into collateral shipping sectors by holding directorship positions in companies involved in tug services, bunkering operations, insurance broking and container feeder ship operations. I am a Fellow member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport and for a number of years, I also represented the ship owner’s interest at the Port Labour Joint Council in Malta.
In 2018, I was appointed as the Chairman for the Authority for Transport in Malta by the Hon. Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects. This position has given me the opportunity and impetus to serve my country and contribute further by sharing my lifelong experiences in the transport sector in a prominent yet challenging position within an organisation so decisive for our Islands.
Can you briefly present the Maltese ports? What are their main characteristics and challenges?
The Maltese ports are best described as a port cluster, as our ports and port services complement each other to offer a wide range of diverse services. Grand Harbour (Valletta) is a multi-purpose port with a primary focus on the liner ro-ro services, ferry services, break bulk, cruise and repair. Marsaxlokk hosts the Malta Freeport Terminals, a major transshipment hub in the Med, our national power station complex including an LNG Floating Storage Unit (FSU) and a number of petroleum and gas storage facilities.
We also have domestic ports that mainly handle domestic maritime transport and yachting facilities.
In terms of challenges, in view of growth and based on the numerous requests and interest being shown from companies who wish to set up shop or expand their operations in Malta, I see port capacity as the major challenge. Equally important is the social dimension and climate change.
What is your vision for the Maltese port sector for the next decade to come?
I strongly believe that we have to continue to work together with the industry, the relevant stakeholders and service providers to remain competitive and sustainable by focusing more on the environmental challenges and on digitalisation.
The maritime sector is one of the driving forces of Malta’s economy, as we cannot depend on road transport with respect to imports and exports. Without good maritime links our economy would stifle. We have invested heavily and actively with respect to maritime policy development both on an EU and international level. We strongly believe that EU transport policy, in particular maritime, should take into consideration the specificities of each Member State and not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. EU maritime policy must offer equal growth opportunities to all, including small and remote islands, as well as insular Member States such as Malta.
Malta’s geographical location, albeit having a number of benefits as it is closely located to one of the major trading routes, also offers a number of challenges such as exposure to non-EU Member States competition.
On a national level it is paramount that we maintain and enhance connectivity with the rest of the world, especially through sea links. Not only port access but also effective and efficient port services are an integral part of the economic and social cohesion of the Island.
We are well aware that Malta has a natural potential to become a centre of maritime excellence in the Mediterranean and has implemented a number of initiatives to further facilitate this. The country's status as an EU Member State has also enhanced the country's attractiveness as a centre for international business in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Internationally, Malta is recognised as a safe and secure place to do business with high economic, legal and political stability and low risk. It boasts a highly-qualified and flexible workforce and a proactive business environment. All these key factors have made Maritime Malta the ideal location for foreign direct investment and international trade. We are committed to continuing to work to consolidate this progress.
Marsaxlokk is one of the larger transhipment ports in the Mediterranean. How do you see the evolution of the transshipment market? What benefits can you bring to your clients?
The Malta Freeport Terminal is a success story but nothing can be taken for granted. The container transshipment business is highly competitive and very dependent on the moves of the global operators. We render our support to the terminal’s management and strive to give clients certainty, continuity and cost effectiveness.
In 2013, China revealed the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), an impressive infrastructure development project aiming to better link China with other parts of the world. This year, Italy officially joined the BRI, and media reported that Malta might be next. What is your point of view on the BRI? What could it mean for Maltese ports?
In respect of the BRI, Malta signed an MOU with China in 2018. Malta strategic position in the Med makes the island a natural logistics hub. I believe that there is scope for more growth and investment in this sector.
In the last decade, the political situation has been unstable in some North African countries. Did this have an impact on the Maltese ports?
Political instability in the Med always impacts on Malta and the region. It is a known fact that Maltese businesses were well established in Libya but there is no significant impact on the port business. We remain optimistic that the situation will improve and that will mean new opportunities for our port business.
Malta is part of the Scandinavian-Mediterranean Corridor of TEN-T Network. How has being part of this corridor been of benefit to the Maltese port sector? How important is MoS (Motorways of the Sea) as the maritime dimension of the TEN-T network for Maltese ports?
The Scandinavian-Mediterranean TEN-T Core Network Corridor stretches from Finland in the north to Malta at the southernmost tip of the European Union.
I see the maritime pillar of TEN-T policy as being vitally important in bringing Maltese businesses closer to European markets, in addressing the inherent geographical disadvantages of Malta’s peripheral location through increased territorial cohesion, in improving maritime safety and in promoting cooperation between port authorities, operators and regulators at a regional level.
Over the past few years there has been significant public and private investment, often with EU grant support, in the development of our TEN-T core maritime ports in Valletta and Marsaxlokk. This investment has led to the upgrading of Malta’s port infrastructures, inter-modal connectivity, maritime equipment and the modernisation of administrative formalities and IT systems in ports.
Maritime safety is a crucial aspect of the promotion and development of Motorways of the Sea. In the aftermath of the Costa Concordia disaster in 2012, Malta participated together with 8 other countries in the MoS project PICASSO (Preventing Incidents and Accidents for Safer Ships in the Oceans). During the course of a CEF funded project in 2017, Transport Malta had coordinated a mass evacuation simulation of a passenger ship in the Port of Valletta in order to practically study and identify shortcomings and put forward new ways in which evacuation procedures can be improved.
The promotion of Motorways of the Sea at an EU level has also formented increased technical cooperation between the EU Member States along the Scan-Med Core Network Corridor. Transport Malta has recently hosted study visits by government officials from Germany, Sweden and Italy. We have also recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Port System Authority of the Eastern Sicilian Sea which aims to promote increased collaboration in areas of common interest such as climate change adaptation and the development of alternative fuel infrastructures in ports.
Valletta is a popular cruise destination. How is the cruise business evolving in your port? What are the main challenges?
The cruise industry is now well established in Malta with a number of leading cruise operators also opting to register under the Malta Flag. Recently we have seen an increase in home-porting operations through which the passengers join the vessel in Malta. Such operations bring a lot of added value for the Maltese economy since quite a number of passengers extend their cruise by a number of days before or after the cruise to explore the country.
The main challenges are, as already mentioned before, port capacity and the social dimension, especially in a port like Valletta where you have residents literally across the street from the cruise terminal, and the environmental dimension, in terms of the emissions. Concerning the latter we are now looking at feasibility and viability of onshore power supply.
What are the main focal points of your port’s environmental policy? Do you intend to conduct any environmental projects in the near future?
Presently we focus on compliance in line with the applicable international and national environmental legislation. We recognise the importance of climate change and sustainable development and will be engaging with industry and stakeholders to discuss tangible projects to implement in the near future.
In view of this year’s European elections and the installation of a new European Commission, ESPO prepared a memorandum with its main priorities for the next five years. Do you have a message for the new Commission?
In respect of shipping I think we need to keep our efforts for global standards and therefore to regulate shipping in line with the requirements as set by the IMO.
We also need to work harder on legal simplification and on facilitating maritime trade in a practical and tangible way.
We are cognisant of the fact that all modes of transport are crucial when it comes to growth, jobs and connectivity. For these reasons we believe that all modes, i.e. maritime, aviation and road, should be treated on equal footing at Council level. We are committed to continuing to push maritime up a notch on the EU political agenda, recalling the need for a more competitive and a sustainable maritime sector. Europe should continue taking the lead in order to ensure that the maritime industry, including port services, remain competitive and sustainable for future generations and the facilitation of world trade.