Malta Seeks a Slice of the Superyacht Cake

15 July 2009 By Kate Hubert

Malta, lying between Sicily and North Africa in the central Med, has long been an important yachting centre. Its mild climate is great for over-wintering and there are facilities for the re-fitting and maintenance of superyachts. But its Achilles heel is the shortage of available berths – only 1,511 in all, many suitable only for small yachts. There are only two main superyacht centres: Grand Harbour Marina and Manoel Island Marina.

Hence it’s no surprise that the Maltese government is obviously keen to grab a bigger piece of the lucrative superyacht pie for these islands. It has embarked on an ambitious plan to create 21 new marinas in Malta and neighbouring Gozo, quadrupling capacity by adding a whopping 4,800 berths. (The plan is to split these into 3,000+ permanent berths and around 1,000 temporary summer berths.) At the same time, Malta also is aiming to privatise the three existing government–run marinas, as Finance Minister Tonio Fenech explained last month: “As the demand or berthing facilities continues to grow rapidly, the government believes that the yachting sector could derive significant benefits from the involvement of the private sector.” The minister also said the privatisation would attract new ‘value-added services’ such as chartering plus the wintering of superyachts.

In these economically challenging times, it’s a brave move – and the government has said they won’t make up any shortfall in the plans if the tenders don’t come in. However, to date, more than 40 companies have expressed interest, from water-sports centres to those already running marinas such as the Melita Marina Group, which already operates Manoel Island Marina as well as 17 other marine companies. They also are bidding for Malta Super Yacht Services – a massive maintenance and refit facility – as the government has decided to privatise this area of its marine business, too. The shipyards up for offer comprise the largest dry-docking, repair, conversion and offshore facilities in the Med.

So why does the government believe this ambitious plan will succeed? Malta does have many advantages, as Joe Degabriele, manager of Malta Super Yacht Services, explains: “There is a lot on offer to the superyacht industry such as very good marinas and repair infrastructure, a very wide array of specialised subcontractors, a maritime authority with a strong flag and a very successful commercial code, good corporate and financial services, a welcoming English-speaking country, good level of entertainment, competitive pricing and more.”

Detractors have wondered about the environmental cost and question the suitability of some of the locations, especially on the more exposed South coast. Environmental impact studies and archaeological examinations will have to take place before building can begin. Also, the early bids for the shipyard businesses were disappointing – less than €5 million when the government was hoping for €18-25 million.

But the number of yachts visiting Malta is expected to treble in the next seven years, and demand for permanent berths is increasing by around 100 a year (150 for visiting berths), and bidding for these marinas has been lively.

With megayachts such as Indian Empress re-fitting here and strong brands such as Camper & Nicholsons already a presence (running the Grand Harbour Marina, which has 33 superyacht berths from 33-100m) Malta is already on the superyacht map. Now it is poised to expand its yachting infrastructure as the global economic slow-down bottoms out and confidence returns once more.

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