Palumbo Shipyards, headquartered in Naples, has been in the ship repair industry since 1967, with their presence in Malta dating back to 2010, when the company expanded its operations by acquiring Malta Shipyard and later Malta Superyachts in 2011.

This expansion, affirms Palumbo Shipyard General Manager Joseph Calleja, marked a significant development in the company’s history.

Having first set foot in the shipyard at the tender age of 16, you could say that Joseph has grown up here – going from shipwright to working within the Safety Department before furthering his studies and pursuing a degree in Chemistry and Biology. Several qualifications would follow, leading to his appointment as HSSE Manager at Malta Shipyards.

“When Palumbo took over the shipyard in Malta, Antonio Palumbo approached me with his plans for it, and I immediately accepted,” recalls Joseph, who became one of the first appointees of the new company with the role of Health, Safety and Environment Manager. He was appointed General Manager a little while later and has never looked back.

“The mission of Palumbo Shipyards in Malta from the outset was to leverage its expertise and resources to provide high-quality ship repair, maintenance, and refitting services,” he says, explaining that Palumbo took over an ailing facility at the time, and went on to carry out a complete overhaul in both operations and mentality.

“As a result, the shipyard was completely transformed, going from being a burden that swallowed billions of taxpayers’ money, to injecting millions into Malta’s economy today,” he smiles.

Under Palumbo’s stewardship, the shipyard has invested in new equipment, instituted modern working methods, and complied with the highest environmental and safety practices to beat stiff competition and stand out as one of the top shipyards in the Mediterranean, the General Manager continues – a mutually beneficial scenario for the company, which was able to enhance its presence in the Mediterranean region and strengthen its position as a leading service provider in the maritime industry.

Furthermore, Joseph notes, risk mitigation through stringent health and safety standards, employee well-being and training, as well as developing sustainable environmental practices, upgrading the existing infrastructure, and procuring new technology continued to push the company further ahead.

In that time, it is no surprise that Palumbo Shipyards’ presence in Malta has grown, and its mission has evolved to encompass a broader range of services. These include ship conversion and refit, yacht refitting, complex ship repair, installation of extended new fabricated vessels’ parts, installation of new environmentally friendly plants and equipment, and various high-tech interventions on oil and gas platforms. In 2017, the Maltese shipyard was also singled out from among top international yards for its competence, skilled team, and facilities to execute the overhaul of the luxurious Silver Cloud liner, from a standard liner to an ice-class expedition cruise ship within a short time span of just two months.

“This expansion has not only catered to the needs of the commercial shipping sector but also serves the luxury yacht and superyacht markets,” the General Manager maintains, affirming that Palumbo Shipyards has established itself as a multifaceted maritime services provider and a reliable partner for ship owners, operators, and management companies – attracting top notch clients to Maltese shores while contributing to the economic and maritime development of the sector in the Mediterranean region.

Delving further into some of the major milestones the company has achieved in that time, Joseph lists the upgrading of their facilities and infrastructure, including upgrading Wharf Cranes; fitting one of the first Photovoltaic installations in Malta; introducing new environmental standards for hull treatment of vessels; and procuring state-of-the art robotic equipment using potable water, instead of abrasive material.

“Our company is committed to a greener future and works to source a significant portion of its energy from renewable sources,” he adds.

He emphasises environmental Initiatives specifically, maintaining that Palumbo Shipyards has eliminated various previous procedures and adopted eco-friendly practices and technology to reduce the environmental footprint of its operations. “Since the early days, Palumbo set continuous promotion on the low voltage ship-to-shore connection already existing in the yard to clients so that upon arrival in the yard, their vessels will be immediately connected to the grid,” he explains, going on to mention cleaning practices avoiding the use of chemicals, energy-efficient facilities, and sustainable ship repair practices.

Keen to emphasise this point following some contentious media reports recently regarding the yard’s ship-to-shore facilities, Joseph underlines the fact that these facilities have been an integral part of the yard’s infrastructure for several years, dating back to well before the introduction of Palumbo Shipyard in Malta.

Ship-to-shore facilities

“These facilities have served us well and have played a pivotal role in our operations, facilitating efficient and timely operations for a variety of vessels,” he maintains, adding that while many of the vessels accommodated by these facilities are well-suited to the existing infrastructure, it has become increasingly evident that, with larger vessels come more complex and resource-intensive demands which need to be met using greener technology.

“This evolution necessitates a corresponding enhancement and Infrastructure Malta is working on rolling out a ship-to-shore operation in the harbour to meet the changing needs of attending vessels in port,” Joseph continues, adding that part of this project required special electrical cables and other high-technology wiring to be passed around the perimeter of the Grand Harbour, including the shipyard. “One has to understand that the preparation and installation of such ship-to-shore facilities in all of the Grand Harbour is a considerable undertaking, and we will continue to support all the logistics necessary until the project is completed,” he adds, stating that plans on the locations where the electrical equipment is to be installed are already in place, and further phases of the project will follow. 

The General Manager also considers diversification of services to be a significant milestone, making Palumbo Shipyards a significant player in the offshore market; as well as strategic partnerships and collaborations which have further enhanced its capabilities and reputation in the market. Beyond Malta, Palumbo Shipyards has also expanded its presence to other key locations in the Mediterranean, including Italy, France and Croatia; and, apart from that, has also seen its client base grow significantly, attracting shipowners and ship management companies from around the world who seek its services for vessel repairs, refits, and conversions.

“These milestones reflect the company’s commitment to continuous improvement, innovation, and its ability to adapt to changing market demands, making it a prominent and respected name in the ship repair and refit industry in the Mediterranean and beyond,” Joseph says.

Despite global challenges, business in general in Malta has stabilised, and this, Joseph says, is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the local economy.  “Companies like Palumbo Shipyards, that is involved in diverse aspects of the maritime industry, play a pivotal role in ensuring stability and growth by offering services that cater to all kinds of ships in the industry,” he maintains.

Turning his attention to current projects, Joseph lists several of the company’s accomplishments this year, including substantial engineering works on MSC Seaview; accommodating humanitarian aid vessel USS Hershel Woody Williams, which came with a set of specialised requirements; and a complex overhaul of MSC Fantasia. Next on the agenda is an “open-heart surgery” on GNV Sealand, he smiles, where the whole engine room will be dismantled, as well as a new installation which involves kilometres of piping and electrical cables, detailed engineering, and project management.

To be successful in a volatile industry like shipping, it is in the shipyard’s interest to adhere to the most rigorous environmental, health and safety regulations for both the shipyard and tts surrounding environment and Palumbo is continuously investing in training and acquiring the latest technology to remain ahead of the competition – a benefit for both the Shipyard and Malta’s competitiveness.

Looking ahead, the team at Palumbo, Joseph says, will continue to study and assess the market and stay attuned to industry trends, adapting resourceful strategies to seize opportunities as they arise. “Through various top-notch brands, we develop ways of how we can be ready to accommodate the latest technologies to be installed on-board, even within the minimal possible spaces in machinery areas. One scenario is the installation of new plants for innovative fuels and their respective storages on-board,” he maintains.

To do this, there are certainly challenges which the company must consider, to anticipate what is to come and navigate its way through with minimal turbulence. These include global economic fluctuations and the lack of an even playing field with other countries which do not form part of the European Union, as well as possible supply chain disruptions in the supply of materials and components which could impact production schedules.

Finally, the General Manager attests, keeping up with the latest technologies and trends in maritime services can be challenging, as rapid advancements require ongoing investment in research and development. “Today, you may be studying LNG, and possibly, tomorrow, it may already be obsolete, leading you to consider methanol or even hydrogen,” Joseph states, taking it in his stride. Meanwhile, there are also geopolitical risks to contend with, which have the potential to disrupt business operations; as well as the challenges inherent in recruiting and retaining skilled labour, including specialised engineers and technicians.

In summation, the company’s drive moving forward centres on continually building on what has been achieved so far and modestly aiming to further expand its portfolio and achieving more success on an international platform, the General Manager says.

“In 2024, the shipyard aims to achieve another commitment to better the quality standards it has committed to since the beginning – to operate in the best eco-friendly way and have another accreditation after months of auditing and processing, demonstrating a commitment to health and safety, in turn continuing our commitment towards elevated standards in our operations,” he maintains.

“We will continue to venture into new niches, including innovative energy projects; various adaptions and refits which necessitate the research, development and installation of greener fuels to be used on-board vessels; complex scrubber installation projects and the list continues,” he smiles, always with the aim of securing complex projects and bringing further economy to our shores.

“Palumbo Shipyard deserves to be, and remain, with the top European leaders in the field – sustaining credibility by sheer competence while continuing to invest in the infrastructure and training of our human resources, carrying out environmentally-friendly practices, and in the highest quality standards possible,” he concludes.

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