Malta’s marine and maritime sector has long played an important role for the wellbeing of the Maltese population, but the blue economy is likely to become an even greater economic force. With territorial waters that are almost 14 times bigger than the country’s land area, and a coastline almost 300 kilometres long, it comes as no surprise that Malta has set its sights on to harnessing the Mediterranean Sea. Long considered the traditional domain of shipping, ship repair and fishing, Malta is keen to position itself as a leader in new emerging activities that are reshaping the sector such as aquaculture, marine biotechnology and blue pharma, renewable energy, as well as technological research, ICT and e-maritime services that make it feasible and economically viable to tap into blue resources.
The New Blue
Malta’s maritime industry dates back centuries – evidence of naval activity can even be found in the island’s ancient temples that feature walls embellished with carvings of ships. The sea has long been Malta’s greatest resource and often made up for the lack of arable land to support the needs of the island’s population. The Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans and the British all used Malta as a trading hub. In more modern times, the country also capitalised on the crystal-clear waters surrounding the island by pitching itself as a travel and tourism hotspot in the Mediterranean. Studies determine that some 15% of Malta’s economy depends on the marine environment. During the past few decades, there was a decline in certain maritime activities especially in ship building and repair, however new segments have emerged, for instance ship registration and support services for the offshore oil and gas industry, that have become primary drivers of growth within the sector. While the traditional service-based activities are still at the heart of Malta’s ambitions for blue growth, the country’s desire to develop a blue economy goes beyond tourism, trade and transport. It is expected that by investing in and building upon new opportunities that beckon from the sea, Malta could generate some 6,000 new jobs in the coming years, as well as a 3% increase in GDP.
The Science of Sea Farming
Fisheries have long had their fair share of Malta’s maritime activities. Going forward greater attention will also be paid to the development of the fish processing industry as well as to aquaculture. Malta currently has five fish farms operating nine sites, with one farm producing only closed cycle species (CCS) such as sea bream, sea bass and meagre, one both CCS and tuna, and the others only tuna. Today, more than half the fish consumed around the world is farm-grown, and globally the aquaculture industry is growing an average of 6% annually. To cater to this rising demand, Malta is also keen to become a respected leader in aquaculture research. A focal point here is the development of ‘new species’ for aquaculture, with particular emphasis on the hatchery and cage rearing of amberjack and bluefin tuna. The pharma and biotechnology sectors could too play a key role in driving blue growth. While Malta has been very successful in the manufacture of generic pharmaceuticals, future opportunities could arise in marine biotechnology and ‘blue pharma’ by using molecules and substances of marine origin for drugs, cosmetics and dietary supplements – areas that are still largely unexplored today.
Dr Daniel Aquilina, Chairman of Malta Marittima Agency
Power from the Sea
Blue energy is also high on the agenda. While Malta thus far has been unsuccessful in finding hydrocarbons, the Mediterranean Sea offers vast potential for renewable “blue energy” production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources. Efforts are underway to identify the most suitable energy source for the Maltese Islands. Meanwhile, the country has made notable progress in positioning itself as the Mediterranean’s top service hub for the oil and gas industry. Malta offers deep natural harbours as well as an infrastructure geared to servicing the growing oil and gas sector. The island also offers a state-of-the-art transshipment terminal, as well as storage and warehousing facilities. In addition, it boasts expertise in the repair and maintenance of ships and oil rigs, and a large pool of specialised workers offering a high level of support is available on the island. Capitalising on its expertise in this sector, Malta is currently transforming an area of 170,000 square metres into a maritime hub, which will see the area becoming a premier operations support facility strategically placed to deliver services such as pre-stacking and reactivation, certification, upgrades, modifications and maintenance alongside on-going operational support.
Logistics are currently one of the largest segments of Malta’s blue economy. While the Malta Freeport has developed into the Mediterranean’s third-largest transshipment hub, the government is working to increase capacity and space for logistics and warehousing operations. This would enable Malta to capitalise further on its strategic location on the main international shipping lanes and build up a cluster of companies offering supplementary value adding services such as packaging and labelling. The bunkering business has also been growing in recent years, and Malta’s government is keen to facilitate new business linkages and relationships for this segment to grow and thrive, including the development of LNG bunkering operations for LNG fuelled ships.
A Blue Strategy
As many countries around the world are currently formulating strategies to mainstream the blue economy in their national development plans, Malta is also developing its roadmap for blue growth and blue jobs. To strengthen the sector, the government has created a new agency, Malta Marittima, which is set to become the main point of contact for sector companies wishing to explore opportunities.
If Malta has one infinite resource, it is the sea. However, investing in the blue economy also means investing in a sustainable economy, and Malta’s ultimate aim must be to preserve the quality and diversity of ecosystems, habitats and species. If managed properly, the Mediterranean Sea can account for significant economic growth in the years ahead. It is forecasted that the global economic value of maritime-related activities will reach €2.5 trillion per year by 2020, while the International Energy Agency estimates that renewable energy from the sea has a power potential sufficient to provide up to 400% of current global energy demand. If these predications are anything to go by, the blue economy is an opportunity not to be missed.