When one of Malta’s nautical pilots persuaded young cadet Captain Jesmond Mifsud to join the country’s piloting team at just 23 years of age, he was unwittingly inspiring the future success of Malta’s first piloting cooperative, Malta Maritime Pilots.
“My aim was to become a Captain following my time as a cadet at the Nautical Institute in Malta, when, in 1988, a piloting job became available,” he explains. “Initially I wasn’t interested in the vacancy, but I sat for the exams anyway and came first. However, the minimum age for pilots in Malta back then was 30, and I was only 23 years old. Nonetheless, due to the lack of pilots at the time I was asked to stay on; the law was changed, and the age limit lowered in order to encourage a younger generation to start a career in maritime piloting, and I could apply.”
Shortly after Jesmond joined the team, his fellow pilots began to lobby for status as an independent entity, threatening strikes and taking the authorities to court. Finally, following court battles and a change in pilot regulations in 2003, the Government decreed that the pilots should form a cooperative.
“In a coop all members are equal. This new status suited both our small company of pilots and the Government. It was agreed that the cooperative would fall under the bracket of ‘Essential Services’ – the only private entity to do so,” Jesmond explains. “When Malta Maritime Pilots became a coop, we signed an agreement with the Government that would cover the next 30 years – a very risky but fully-transparent deal that had never been struck before. It put the local shipping community’s mind at rest for the future of the industry in Malta, since it detailed the tariffs all ships would have to pay, thereby bringing in more work from the larger companies due to price transparency.”
The coop agreement also stipulated that the pilots who formed part of the company must elect a Chief Pilot, who would liaise with the authorities on behalf of the cooperative, as well as distribute work among the team and tackle problems as they arose. Despite his young age, Jesmond was voted Chief Pilot very early on. “I was the youngest pilot of them all, but I was voted for because I had fresh ideas, agreed that we should run our business alone and without any interference, and I wanted us to work as a team, expanding our business to bring together all the master mariners, along with their combined marine industry knowledge.”
At its helm, Jesmond’s signature team-focused approach has become the key to the coop’s ongoing success. “At the end of the day, we must always work together to find a common goal,” he maintains. “Sharing ideas, taking advice and supporting each other is a huge part of how we operate.”
This philosophy is reflected in every aspect of the cooperative, right down to the organisation of its daily operations. There is a shared responsibility for the coop – apart from being pilots, everyone is responsible for something, such as oil recovery, training, boat maintenance, drydocking or personnel. “We are a large yet self-sufficient team, working for a common goal, and we split our profits equally among us,” Jesmond explains. This unique team ethic has also offered one unusual advantage. “Over the 15 years that I have been Chief Pilot, rarely has anyone called in sick. Everyone covers for everyone, so if someone has difficulties covering a shift, then the team sorts itself out. No-one is put under any pressure or stress to do more than they can. Such is the genuine commitment of the pilots to the coop.”
However, Jesmond highlights that being a cooperative in today’s business environment presents challenges, especially with regards to financing expansion projects. “In the outside world, an institution such as a bank tends to take two steps back when faced with the needs of a cooperative. Banks are reluctant to offer finance to an entity which they don’t, as yet, fully understand.” Nevertheless, he regards the opportunities ahead for the cooperative, and the shipping industry in general, as promising. “There are all sorts of prospects for us just around the corner – the yachting sector, for example, is currently booming in Malta, and I foresee that it will become a major employment sector for locals. Young people here also have the opportunity to become pilots, and to follow a career that is both fun and financially-rewarding.”
Nurturing the next generation of pilots in Malta is now one of the cooperative’s top priorities, as Jesmond focuses on completing the construction of a one-of-a kind maritime training school. “They need to take the coop to the next step, with their education, experiences and ideas. The aim is for them to carve their own piloting career paths so that they can replace me as the Chief Pilots of the future.”
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