The President of Malta

Speech by H.E. George Vella, President of Malta, during the Book Launch of the Research Handbook on Ocean Governance Law, 12 July 2023.

Prof Attard,

Madam Justice,

State Advocate,

Prof Borg,


Distinguished guests,

It is indeed my pleasure to welcome you here at Sant Anton this evening on the occasion of the launching of a book on ocean governance.

Put in simpler language, this is a book about management of the seas and the oceans.  More specifically it contains a number of contributions from eminent scholars, both Maltese and foreign, dealing with the legal implications of the various aspects of maritime related activities, as well as of the rights and privileges enjoyed by states, as emerging from the Law of the Sea.

Basically, this is a reference book which portrays the legal aspect of jurisdiction, sovereignty, as well as pollution and dumping, effects of climate change, the opportunities of the so called “blue economy”, sustainability of fish stocks, carriage of goods, underwater cultural heritage, as well as terrorism and trafficking of illegal goods and humans, and armed robbery and piracy.

The range of the subjects discussed is wide.  I am sure that given the fast rate at which this aspect of international legislation is developing, and with the accumulation of more and more test cases, this volume could eventually grow into a whole library.

I am not legal, and I am no expert in maritime affairs.  Speaking to you, experts in the matter, humbles me.

However, coming from an Island state like Malta, we all grow up with the realization that we are constantly in the vicinity of the sea that surrounds us and that has shaped our history over the centuries.

The concept of an island itself, implies the presence of the sea.

Malta is basically land and sea.

This was the reason why over time, we attracted sea faring naval powers that saw in Malta the asset of being in the center of the sea.

It was also the reason why the sea has featured so prominently over the years in our figurative arts and literature.

It was undoubtedly this same feeling of belonging to the maritime world that must have made us develop our country’s launching and promotion of the Law of the Sea.  The names of Ambassador Arvid Pardo, and Professor Elizabeth Mann Borgese are shining lights in the firmament of maritime history.

The idea behind the Law of the Sea was essentially to bring about order and legality, instead of the free for all attitude that reigned before.  Admittedly there were countries that, for their own particular interests, decided not to adopt the convention.

The vision was for this legislation to be an instrument for peace, as well as tool for environmental justice of developing and least developed countries.

The International Oceans Institute, based in Malta further promotes training, policy development, and anything having to do with oceans and ocean communities of island and developing states.

The “Pacem in Maribus” conferences, organized by the International Oceans Institute, as the name implies are intended to achieve peace on our ocean.

Maltese participation at UN level also contributed in no small way to see Elizabeth Mann Borgese original proposal intending to keep the ocean issues at the forefront of UN deliberations, mature into what we now refer to as the UN open ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.

Closer to date, we are at the present time also seeing Malta as an elected Member of the UN Security Council, giving priority to the subject of climate change and the oceans, with emphasis on the consequences of potential rise in sea levels following the thawing of the polar ice caps.

I must also make reference to the prestigious Institute of Maritime Law at the University of Malta, founded and also led for many years by Prof David Attard, an institute which has produced countless scholars from around the world and which in collaboration with the Nippon Foundation, enjoys the full respect and patronage of the International Maritime Organization.

I must have deviated somehow from the subject of the book itself.  However, I think this background will help put the subjects, and the material in the book on Ocean Governance in their proper perspective.

When the Law of the Sea was launched there was agreement that there were areas of seas and oceans that were “beyond jurisdiction”.

Today’s reality is different.  Within 100 years of inventing plastics, we have managed to pollute all the world’s oceans.  With the onset of climate change, and rising global temperature we realized that we could even effect the oceans’ currents.  We needed the oceans floors to lay cables for communication and energy transfers, and the vast expanses of ocean surface to locate GPS stabilized oilrigs, or wind farms or solar panels, not to mention harnessing wave motion to produce energy.

All these activities have to be somehow regulated.

The concepts of sustainability of fishing resources, pollution, respect for biodiversity, the Blue Economy, and other considerations, all have to be factored in today’s holistic view of ocean management and governance.

The centuries old laws governing shipping, transport, piracy, and illegal trafficking have long been subjected to maritime laws.

This reference book on ocean governance is intended to put all this into perspective.

More than that it is also intended to show beyond any shadow of doubt that no part of our ocean should be written off as “beyond national jurisdiction”.

The seas and oceans are one living organism covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, which seen from outer space have earned our planet the moniker of “the blue planet”.

That vast expanse cannot go unregulated.

We have to learn how to deal with it to reap the benefits of good ocean governance.  This will be in the best interests of sustainability, security, and conservation of our planet which we hope to pass on to future generations.

Congratulations to all contributors to this reference book, and to the Editors Prof Simone Borg, Prof Patricia Vella de Fremeaux and Dr Felicity Attard.

Thank you

Skip to content