Ever since the times of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans, Malta’s geographic position always gave the island a special strategic importance – whether the issue was trade, war or pleasure. Being only two days’ sail from any of the Mediterranean’s principle yachting centers and only a couple of hours’ flight from most major European cities, has always offered the world of professional yachting an appealing setting. Over time, it’s come to add to that competitive advantage with a comprehensive range of facilities and services from its yards and marinas, as well as its surveying and multi-service agencies.
Back when the Mercantile era, ships called into Malta for coal and supplies. Malta was also a home port in the Mediterranean for the British fleet and Malta’s naval dockyard facilities were eventually transformed for commercial ship repair.
Realizing the economic potential of the Mediterranean Sea and looking to effectively utilizes this natural resource, in the 1960s Malta planned for an economy away from military dependence – based on the use of the island’s harbors for naval shipping – to one based on the peaceful trade. This vision led to the construction of the first two yacht marinas at Ta’ Xbiex and Manuel Island, and yachting became the cornerstone of Malta’s tourism-related marine activities, starting in the early 1970s.
By the late 1980s the government had decided to develop marina facilities further to ensure that they aligned with international standards. The marinas were scheduled for further developed in 1987, when the first tenders for floating pontoons were issued and awarded for the Msida Marina. By 1991, a second phase in the yachting centre’s development was completed with a pontoon being floated at the ta’ Xbiex marina, and later at Mgarr Harbor in Gozo.
Malta’s entry into the EU in mid 2004 was a turning point for its yachting industry. Although the yachting sector was already gaining momentum, this development further stimulated growth and recognition of Malta as a possible yachting destination. The industry then took a giant leap forward in 2005, when Malta introduced the new yacht leasing program. The Program was the first of its kind, and proved to be very efficient in providing yacht owners with the potential to save a considerable amount of VAT on the purchase and operation of their vessel.
Looking to further strengthen the yachting industry, Malta went on to launch the commercial code in 2006. The code was mostly based on industry established standards, however what was most revolutionary about the Malta code is that unlike competitors, it brought together in one document the requirements for both yachts below and above 24 metres in length. Since its introduction the code has gained acceptance and recognition within the industry, and more than 230 yachts, with an average length of 31m, are registered as commercial yachts under the Malta flag. Malta has recently issued a revision of the code in order to ensure that the needs of larger yachts are served and to optimise the regulatory regime to the particular needs, demands and technologies of this market, whilst conforming with safety and international regulations and standards. These changes took effect on the 1st of October 2015.
Another notable development was the privatisation of the Maltese marinas. Due to a substantial increase in the registration of pleasure yachts under the Maltase flag, all marinas operated by the Malta Maritime Authority (MMA) were offered for privatization in 2009. This change resulted from pressure being placed on local authorities to increase the berthing capacities for yachts within the Maltese islands and to have them managed on a professional basis.
When mentioning the progress of the Maltese yachting industry, one can not fail to mention the momentum the Maltese flag has built. It was indeed a proud moment for Malta when in December 2014 the Malta flag was positioned as the 7th largest flag in the world during 2013, whilst sustaining its position as the largest flag in the EU in terms of Gross tonnage. It was an even prouder moment when Malta was ranked the 6th largest flag in the world at the end of 2014, with a superyacht fleet of 452 flying the Maltese cross worldwide.
The most recent development in the Malta yachting industry and one that stakeholders have been anticipating eagerly, is the construction of the new marina at Sa Maison. The Maltese prime minister launched the new yacht marina bearing the name of Marina Di Valletta, with an investment of €7.5 million, on the evening of the 8th August this year. Yachts of up to 28m will be able to berth in the new marina and will provide an additional 274 berths, with controlled parking access and a round-the-clock berthing service. Malta will now also be able to host transit yachts. The project is expected to be concluded in time for the next yachting season and to produce one of the most luxurious yacht marinas in the world, with a floating breakwater and a 200 metre rubble wall.
Having run through Malta’s yachting industry in a nutshell, we can honestly say that both the Island and its yachting industry have had an interesting and successful journey so far. Although we have looked back to gauge what Malta has achieved so far, Malta’s sights are evidently set on the future, and the island together with its service providers keeps striving to be innovative, ensuring the sustainability and improvement of Malta’s popularity as a yachting destination.
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