In May 2015, Dr Angelo Scorza, Director of the online shipping, ports, transport, and logistics magazine – SHIP2SHORE interviewed Mario Mizzi, CEO and Malcolm Custo’, CFO of Tug Malta. His article is being re-produced hereunder:

Floriana (Malta) – Since it was privatised 8 years ago to Rimorchiatori Riuniti Group of Genoa, Tug Malta Limited (TML) has no doubt took advantage of the synergies brought about thanks to its affiliation with the Italian parent, which is driving its continuous growth through increased commercialization and diversification yet leaving space for Tug Malta to independently run its own business, building up on its 35-years long roots since its inception as a state owned towage operating firm on 1st January 1980.

Indeed in 2007 Rimorchiatori Riuniti emerged as the successful proponent to acquire the Maltese Government’s stake in Tug Malta Ltd following a competitive bidding process that had attracted interest from several other household names in the industry. By January 2008 Rimorchiatori Malta Limited bought the remaining shares in Tug Malta from the private shareholders.

The current top management is the legacy of TML’s sale by the Maltese Government to the RR Group. The stewardship lies with a strong board of directors with diverse industry and professional background which also include four members of Rimorchiatori Riuniti (RR) board (Giovanni Delle Piane, Chairman, Gregorio Gavarone, Managing Director, Riccardo Biale, Executive Director and Alberto Delle Piane -Director). Sitting on the board of Tug Malta are local directors John E. Sullivan as Chairman and fellow directors Dr. George Abela, Dr. Richard Camilleri, Raymond Miller and Mario Mizzi; the latter having held various senior management positions in the public sector, played an important part in the privatisation process of TML and brought with him solid management and commercial expertise.

“The privatization of Tug Malta is a success story to all involved stakeholders as it brought about many positive changes that fuelled growth and increased business for the company, investment and modern tugs to the fleet, more efficient services to the industry particularly for the shipping lines calling in our ports and increased opportunities for its employees. TML has firmly established itself as one of the most important port services providers in Malta’s maritime chain of activities” explains CEO Mario Mizzi, who joined the company some years after TML was privatized. Malcolm Custo CFO of TML shared and allied the same thoughts of the CEO. Malcolm Custò who has been with TML since 2004 is responsible for corporate affairs (i.e. administrative and financial functions),including treasury and capital management

It is a funny although pure coincidence that the Head Ouarters is located at Sir Luigi Preziosi; bearing the same family name of probably the most successful president of Genoa Football Club, of which some RR’s bosses are surely strong supporters. From these high bastions in Floriana, the management has a clear view of the towing maneuvers taking place in the Valletta Grand Harbour.

“As part of the privatization deal signed with the Government, RR as owners of the TML committed to keep in the company’s employ all employees on the books of the company at the time. During the last 8 years manpower training and development was high on the company’s agenda, as was also the introduction of more efficient working practices bespoke and better cater for new industry demands for harbour and off-shore operations. The whole crew is considered an asset as much as the fleet of tugs. Nevertheless the company is constantly seeking to engage additional and suitably STCW qualified crew, though recruitment is proving to be a bit of challenge in view that availability of experienced and qualified people are scarce locally. Tugs are manned by a crew of 3.

“You can find Maltese tug masters, although it is more difficult to find a tug engineer” Mizzi adds. Back to the new helm, the sentiment is largely positive.

“Forming part of the RR Group, we have made quantum leaps forward. I mention again the subject of fleet modernization; the extent of which would not have been the same had the company remained under the auspices of the Government” says the CEO.

“Under the new owners TML was prompt to invest in two new tugs, Mt Spinola, which arrived in June 2009 and Mt Sant’Elmo, in September 2011” recalls Custò.

In September 2014 at Timber Wharf, Marsa, Damen Shipyards delivered Tug Malta their latest ASD2411 newly built tugboat; the Malta had sailed all the way from Da Nang shipyard in Vietnam. The new 71 tons bollard pull tug was registered under the Maltese Flag and located in Malta under a temporary bareboat charter agreement with Tug Malta.

“Achievements were also registered in the segment of offshore support services. Previously jobs secured in this camp were too few and far between. Today taking advantage of a fully-fledged commercial department at RR TML is more aggressively active in pursuing off-shore job opportunities in central Mediterranean. ”

On the same subject, presently the RR Group has the anchor handler Varazze moored at the Grand Harbour. AH Varazze delivered from Rosetti Marino shipyard of Ravenna at the end of 2014 and considered by ship brokers as the best and one of the modern anchor handler vessels currently positioned in the Mediterranean is waiting for its next assignment.

In mid-April , Giovanni Umberto De Vito, Ambassador of Italy to Malta, paid a courtesy call on the vessel, and was received aboard by Capt. Mario Baldari and Chairman John Sullivan.

TML’s fleet comprises 7 port tugs which cater for all harbor operations at Port of Marsaxlokk and the Grand Harbour. Activity at the container transshipment and oil tanking terminals in Marsaxlokk account to some 80-85% of all harbour activities; whereas in the Grand Harbour movements are mainly restricted to conventional and bulk cargo and shipyard induced demand.

“We are now experiencing a surge in tug use due to the calling of ever larger container vessels deployed by the main shipping lines including also by the 2M and Ocean3 alliances. This trend is expected to persist as we will witness more of such vessels particularly when Malta Freeport will install and commission next November the new gantry cranes on Terminal 1.

The company is also in the process of gearing up to cater for any towage services demand that will be triggered by the new LNG Terminal that will be developed at Delimara. In this respect and in consultation with Government, Tug Malta will undertake to invest in new tugs aimed to address industy needs in the foreseeable future. Discussions are in progress.

At the moment and in terms of its agreement with Transport Malta, the Authority responsible also for Maritime Services, TML is obliged to maintain a fleet of 6 tugs, 3 of which fully manned on a 24/7 basis. Additional tugs and crew is mobilized at the exigencies of work dictated. The company is responsible to render all harbour towage services to any vessel within the Maltese harbours and their approaches. It is also obliged to respond and provide for emergency services including for oil pollution response.

Through its Pollution and Incidence Response Unit (PIRU), as the Authority responsible for maritime affairs, Transport Malta is mandated to implement and maintain the National Marine Pollution Contingency Plan as well as to maintain and operate its offshore Oil Response Equipment including pollution containment booms, surface skimmers, pumps etc. In support of the foregoing duties, Transport Malta contracted Tug Malta to provide emergency services including transport, handling and operating the equipment to be deployed for oil pollution response in the internal and territorial waters of Malta, when an emergency response and disaster clean-up operation arises, with its tugs equipped with Fire-Fighting capabilities and other pollution prevention equipment.

TML operates on an exclusive basis under a concession framework and is regulated by Transport Malta. Asked about the Market Access Regulation currently under consideration at the European Parliament, the CEO declared that whatever the outcome of such legislation; market liberalization and the prospect of competition are not upper most concerns on their minds. He further stated that safety, infrastructural and operational considerations in ports will determine the final state of play. Mario Mizzi added that whatever the outcome TML will be well position to continue serving its clients.

It is for this reason that TML regards diversification into new services also important in its strategy for growth. Mr Mizzi explained that although the lion’s share of business would still remain from core towage operations, yet TML strives to optimize on the company’s strengths to pursue opportunities in the maritime industry. Pursuant to this, a project that kicked off almost two years ago relates to the provision of marine technical support services in the industry. The project has registered a very encouraging measure of success and is building momentum as more clients, both foreign and local, have sought recourse to TML’s technical services and capabilities.

Drawing the interview to a conclusion, Mr Mizzi commented on the outlook of Tug Malta for the future as being potentially challenging, promising opportunities and with a strong role for the company within the industry.

Angelo Scorza