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Marine engineering: beyond our shores

Malta's strategic position at the centre of the Mediterranean has always meant that our long and illustrious history has been inextricably linked to the evolution of the maritime industry, and to those sectors depending on this industry. Our shores and harbours played a significant role in the economic, military and cultural history of the Mediterranean.

Although marine engineering is probably one of the oldest established fields of engineering locally, and Malta is considered to be a maritime nation, the Chamber of Engineers felt that the engineering profession could benefit through a sharper focus on the diverse engineering applications that constitute this sector. Our initiative met with strong support, and this was reflected in the wide variety of topics presented at a conference held last Thursday at the Radisson SAS Golden Sands.

Malta's history as a maritime nation provides the foundation for today's success stories in a number of areas in the maritime field. Malta is a leading country for ship registration; our cruise liner terminal is possibly the most spectacular in the Mediterranean and a berthing place in our marinas is definitely sought after.

Our coastline provides a number of natural ports that have always been a main feature of our islands. We felt it fitting to commence the conference with a historical background of the Grand Harbour, presented by leading maritime historian, Joseph Muscat.

The Grand Harbour is a focal point of our history. Even today, it is still an important hub for transportation and tourism. The Malta Maritime Authority recently invested in a ports and coastal traffic management information system for state-of-the-art surveillance of our coastal waters. Captain Richard Gabriele will be presenting the features of this system.

An innovative approach to the maximisation of Malta's maritime position is taken by MARSEC-XL, a Marine Software Engineering Cluster of Excellence for the yachting sector. MARSEC-XL has been set up locally with international support and its CEO, Geir Fagerhus, updated the conference on the future of the yachting business.

Gorka Salsidua Urrueala drew attention to the environmental advantages of the latest technology for energy saving in shipping through the use of technologically advanced hull coatings. Although shipping is intrinsically an energy-efficient mode of transport, the expanding fleet of the global shipping industry offers an excellent potential for fuel saving.

Dynamic positioning is used to keep marine vessels in place where conventional methods such as anchors cannot be used. Daniel Endersby, from the Dynamic Positioning Centre, delivered a presentation on the technical solutions used by a dynamic positioning system to suit different applications and environment conditions.

Dominic Hudson from the School of Engineering Sciences at the University of Southampton and lecturer in Ship Science degree programmes, has research interests in ship propulsion, sea-keeping, and manoeuvring of high-speed craft.

Dramatic improvements in craft performance in recent years have led to the human element becoming the limiting factor for high-speed operation. Dr Hudson highlighted the analysis required when designing high-speed craft from a human factor perspective.

Another local speaker was Duncan Camilleri from the University of Malta. Dr Camilleri has followed research studies in welding technology and this forms the basis of modern shipbuilding methods. His presentation focused on the latest techniques in the design and manufacturing processes for large thin-plate structures.

Since engineering in Malta, particularly marine engineering, can be traced several hundred years to the dockyard in the Grand Harbour, it is a common misconception to think that it is limited to the traditional ship repair role that is associated with the Malta Drydocks.

Alistair Greig, from the University College London, presented a study on a lesser known environmental effect of marine transportation. The transfer of ballast water on vessels from one port to another takes with it sediment and marine organisms. This is today identified as one of the major contributors to the introduction of non-indigenous species.

This invasion has been recognised as a major threat to marine ecology and is a problem of global importance. Dr Greig's presentation outlined the technical background to a better understanding of this phenomenon and recommends better flushing practices proven to minimise this hazard.

The director of the Malta-based Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre (REMPEC), Frederic Hebert, also made an environmental presentation.

The Mediterranean is often cited as one of the world's seas with the highest risk of marine pollution. Mr Hebert's presentation outlined the international and regional co-operation procedures for prevention and response to marine pollution.

Alan Abela, conference chairman, is treasurer of the Chamber of Engineers.

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