Carmelo Caruana Company, a leading name in Malta’s logistics sector, is celebrating 95 years in business this year.
Established in 1923, the company has grown from a pioneering family business to a full logistics house, supporting numerous businesses in Malta and around the Mediterranean to pursue their own growth by providing consistent, reliable service levels.
Alongside its longevity and evolution, Carmelo Caruana Company prides itself on a legacy of commercial success and deep-rooted entrepreneurship that has spawned a multi-disciplinary group spread across nine countries in Europe and North Africa. It now forms part of 1923 Investments plc, the investment arm of Hili Ventures, a group of businesses engaged in engineering, technology and property, as well as logistics, whose key partners include multinational giants such as McDonald’s and Apple.
Carmelo Caruana founded his eponymous firm in the early 1920s and was mainly engaged in the importation of grain. By the 1950s, it ventured into shipping to support its grain importation, and within a decade or so, it was representing companies like Shell and moving a range of commodities, including cement, petroleum, gas and grain, from the Eastern bloc. A liner service soon joined its portfolio of activities, and by the 1970s it established a bunkering operation, turning around more than 40 tankers a month. The company’s growth continued into the 1980s. Under a joint venture with Shell, it became one of the pioneers of ship-to-ship oil transfer on the island and was soon handling two million tonnes a year. Internally, the business, by then trading as Carmelo Caruana Shipping Agency, embraced a different kind of growth.
Carmelo Caruana founded his eponymous firm in the early 1920s and was mainly engaged in the importation of grain.
“Carmelo Caruana was married to my grandmother’s sister,” Beppe Hili, the company’s managing director for more than 25 years, explained. “My mother Rose, his niece by marriage, lived with them at their house in Hamrun even after she married my father Joseph Hili. Carmelo Caruana was originally on the staff of the Mifsud family’s shipping business and later branched out on his own. He was a meticulous man, and he liked to handle everything personally.
“He passed away in 1972. My late sister Marika, my brothers Marin and Paul, and I took over the business. Our first office was at Number 12, Barriera Wharf in Valletta, and we later moved to Number 16.”
The Hili siblings were as industrious as their great-uncle and soon the company was handling more than 70 ships a month – a remarkable level of activity by European standards at the time. A satellite office opened in Greece, business relationships were established with companies in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, tramper services became a specialisation, and fruit importation was added to its portfolio.
By the 1990s, CMA CGM, the French shipping group, was looking to use the Malta Freeport as a distribution hub for container transshipment in the Mediterranean and the company entered into an agreement to act as the brand’s agency. Within a few years, Carmelo Caruana was handling 2,000 ships a year.
Carmelo Caruana Company Managing Director Beppe Hili, and Rose and Joseph Hili at the company’s 75th anniversary celebrations with President Emeritus Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Gemma Mifsud Bonnici (left).
In a major two-year project in the early 2000s, Carmelo Caruana Company was entrusted with the logistics for the gas pipeline between Libya and Sicily. More than 80,000 tonnes of casing joints were imported from Malaysia, transported to a 100-tumoli site by the Malta Freeport to be cleaned and treated for load-out on supply boats.
By this time, the company had moved into a corner townhouse in Floriana, previously the home of Herbert Ganado, the politician and author. Later renamed Transport House, it was extended twice following the acquisition of adjacent buildings to be able to accommodate a team of 60 people.
Mr Hili’s fondest memories of his tenure at Carmelo Caruana Company relate to the relationships the family were able to forge in the course of everyday business. “Before technology set in, we personally called at the berth office or the port workers’ office,” he says. “We were not office-bound. We had good relationships with the stevedores, the police, Customs. It was all hands on. We would socialise at the Lantern restaurant on Saturdays. It was a collaborative community. We set up companies with other families to venture into specific business.”
Along the years, the Hili brothers pursued other activities like port management and engineering, invested in companies in Belarus and the Baltics, and introduced the McDonald’s brand to Malta. In 1995, Hili Company was established to act as the group’s investment arm and the family continued to pursue diversification.
Now part of Hili Ventures, the group led by the youngest brother Melo Hili and which he jointly owns with Beppe Hili and their immediate families, Carmelo Caruana Company is now a trusted partner in Malta to sea freight agencies around the world. It handles incoming and outgoing shipments by any transportation. As a sister company to CMA CGM Malta Agency (now a joint venture between Carmelo Caruana and the brand), it provides unrivalled efficiency on any CMA CGM-routed booking. The company has also earned an impeccable reputation for its round-the-clock agency team, handling operations in Malta’s major ports at Valletta and Marsaxlokk, and ship-to-ship activities outside ports.
Carmelo Caruana Company has worked tirelessly to position itself as an efficient, competitive business partner and is currently operating weekly groupage services from Turkey, Spain and China, all routed on direct services to Malta. Groupage cargo is unloaded at Carmelo Caruana’s own warehouse operation and centralised for rapid collection or delivery.
A faster road freight and ro-ro solution has been designed for groupage and full trailer load shipments from anywhere in Europe, made possible through networking to the company’s consolidation points in Italy, Germany, the UK and Poland, routed from Genoa with a transit time to Valletta of just two days.
Operating amid the rapidly growing economy in Malta, Carmelo Caruana Company is geared to support local and international businesses with transport project cargo to and from Malta, on charter, out-of-gauge containers or breakbulk arrangements. It has been particularly receptive to the requirements of the pharmaceutical and electronics community with interests in the region, providing tailored air freight solutions and GLS courier services as the local agents for GLS since 2015. Thanks to its warehouse within Malta Freeport, Carmelo Caruana Company provides a range of services inside the free trade zone, allowing customers to cut costs on handling and clearance fees for cargo in transit.
This feature originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer