In March 2013 ‘our’ consignments of goods went down in the Indian Ocean – there was reasonable belief that the vessel was cast away for a fraudulent insurance claim. Scuttling vessels is not uncommon in the world of conniving sea merchants. Ships and their mechanical parts can significantly depreciate rendering the asset effectively worthless on future sale. Flags of convenience, negligent or ignorant managing agents together with the manipulation of various insurance entities provide an avenue for the deceitful proprietor of the vessel. The effects of a sunken ship at the bottom of an Ocean are not merely a sheer waste of resource, but have incredibly costly implications for the project that requires those goods. I came to Valetta in Malta to find out all about vessels and their respective ‘Flag of Convenience’. As the name suggests, this is when a ship owner decides to register his or her ship of any country of their choice. The Americans were the first ones to manipulate the shipping market in this way in Panama and Liberia for a combination of tax advantages, lower standards and relaxed labour laws. Of course, there may be an incentive to retain high standards to maintain the value of the vessel as a ‘superyacht’ for example. If we wanted to ‘slash the value of our Gin Palace’ we would wouldn’t re-register the ship in Malta or Liberia said ‘Ollie’. He’s the Captain of a Cayman Island registered 250ft yacht told me on the plane as we discussed the possibility of engine fires breaching the hull of a bulk carrier and causing ‘explosions’ after fire safety precautions were ‘duly exercised’. These are highly contentious issues which I am not at liberty to divulge.
I did indeed enjoy my time learning about the ancient ports of Valetta and Vittoriosa and how the population swelled with the arrival of Sicilians bringing their unique Siculo-Arabic tongue. It may be the smallest and southernmost capital city in the Europe, but when your mind is occupied – it is the perfect place to wander the narrow alleyways dotted with holy statues and crumbling baroque architecture. Maltese is an interesting language to listen to but more entertaining to watch. As mentioned, it is a bastardized Arabic with large constituents of Latin, in particular Italian-Sicilian as well as an elongated ‘alriiiight’ in English. One may think a family feud of biblical proportions is unfolding on your door step in front of the café. But they’re most likely trying to ask for bacon in their butty.
The Maltese have been colonized by the British; aerial bombarded by the Italians and Germans, made a European capital of piracy with its patron Saint and turned into the curious Island of the Knights, chivalrously defending their holy city from the marauding Muslim Ottomans and their predecessor Caliphates. But why I am here? Am I here to learn about naval prowess in ‘The Pub’ where Oliver Reid died while arm wrestling inebriated or where the sailors mingle with the artists and other such Bohemians? Or am I here to explore divided nations and transcend the rift between faith and continent. I spoke to my dear reader last in Kiev in the process of annexation. It was only a quarter of a century ago this month when Bush met Gorbechev on board a Cruise Ship to reconcile their differences and dismantle the Soviet State – alas it was only a Honeymoon because the egg-stained Soviet Statesman reminded us again, as many others do every year that ‘we have a new Cold War’. It’s time we came up with new words and expand our range of feeling. I do that in Malta – ‘alriiight’.