Listen: The Evolution of Malta’s Ship Register
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In the second episode of the “Ganado Meets Transport” podcast, Matthew Attard met Michael Sillato, former Registrar of Merchant Marines and Seamen and a key figure in the development of the Maltese flag at a time when Malta’s maritime register was still in its infancy. stammering. , to discuss the history of the Maltese flag and its evolution over the years to become a highly regarded and internationally recognized ship registry.
The birth of the Malta maritime register
The then government’s talks to launch the Malta Ship Registry began in the 1970s. At the time, Malta was still a British port operating under the British flag. Thus, while there were vessels registered in Malta, none had yet been registered under the Maltese flag. “The birth of the Malta Ship Register was an initiative of the then Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff,” said Michael Sillato. As the first steps towards establishing the Maltese flag were being taken, the drafting process of what would become the Malta Merchant Shipping Act 1973 was also underway.
Attract foreign shipowners under the Maltese flag
Sillato recounts the difficulties encountered at the start of the Malta Ship Register, not least due to the limited technology available to market the Maltese flag abroad. “It was extremely difficult to attract an international market to the Maltese flag,” recalls Sillato. As Malta was still virtually unknown as a register of ships and telecommunications were still rather primitive, Malta gained exposure exclusively through the efforts of agents and representatives of Maltese law firms who traveled to different countries to market maritime transport activities and vessel registration in Malta.
Throughout the 1980s Malta recorded a number of registrations of yachts from Greece, Croatia, Yugoslavia and neighboring countries. Sillato pays tribute to lawyer and seafarer Kostas Kalogeropoulus for helping Malta to establish its long-standing ties with the Greek maritime administration. He says that at the time, Kalogeropoulus was a key figure in promoting the Maltese flag to ship owners and operators, and that his dedicated work during this time has paid off for years to come.
Although at the time Malta faced competition from other more established flags, in Sillato’s opinion, what sets Malta apart from competing flags is the fact that the service offered by the Malta Ship Register is more efficient. than that of competitors. Sillato recounts how, despite limited resources and recruits, the handful of people working at the Registry have shown immense dedication when it comes to responding to client requests. These efforts paid off, as by the end of the 1980s entire fleets of ships were registered in Malta and ship registrations began to increase steadily in the mid 1990s. Although the workload was heavy , these were seen as huge achievements for Malta.
The impact of Malta’s accession to the EU
Malta’s accession to the EU in 2004 has often been cited as a change in the Maltese maritime sphere. Sillato recounts how some clients initially feared Malta would join the EU, as that meant stricter security and compliance standards would have to be enforced by the registry.
Sadly, this was also a time when Malta was under criticism following the Erika incident, when a Maltese-flag tanker broke in two, polluting around 400 kilometers of the French coast. The incident, considered one of the worst environmental disasters in maritime history, prompted the Maltese government at the time to pass stricter laws and regulations regarding the registration of vessels in Malta.
So alongside the new regulations being implemented at EU level, Malta was also working at local level to address some shortcomings in its maritime system. In fact, Sillato argues that despite the misfortune of the Erika disaster, vital lessons have been learned which have motivated both Malta and the other member states to strengthen their maritime systems to reflect international standards. New regulations meant that vessels over twenty years old would be subject to a flag state inspection prior to registration, while the registration of vessels over twenty-five years old would generally be rejected.
The way forward and the challenges ahead
In the beginning, it was extremely difficult to recruit suitable staff at the Registry. “In the beginning, we had no technical or administrative support,” says Sillato. In addition, people were mostly not interested in pursuing a career in the sea, as there was no possibility of career progression through the Register at the time. Today, in addition to becoming a very respectable flag administration, Malta’s shipping register is also supported by a large number of qualified staff. Finally, Sillato recommends that in order to ensure the continued success of the Malta Ship Register, ship registry staff should always listen to the requests of shipowners and operators and strive to always provide solutions within the limits of the law. .