Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2023

100 INTERVIEW Powering Malta’s economy Francis Portelli discusses Virtu Ferries’ role in providing vital passenger and cargo services for Malta with Justin Merrigan For over 35 years, Virtu Ferries has provided essential fast passenger and vehicle services between Malta and Sicily. Since 2019 the company has been operating two vessels on the route, the new Incat-built 110-metre catamarans Saint John Paul II, and Jean De La Valette, which was delivered nine years earlier by Austal Ships. With an annual 1,400, 100-minute trips between the neighbouring islands, it is little wonder that Virtu Ferries is officially recognised as an essential service. And at no time was this more evident than during the Covid-19 pandemic, when commercial vehicle drivers travelling with Virtu were exempt from quarantine restrictions to keep Malta supplied with essential goods. Virtu’s sea link allows Malta to take advantage of the economy of scale of the European Union’s single market, which has a population of over 450 million. “To put things in perspective, the island state of Malta, a member of the EU, has a population of just over 500,000,” says Francis Portelli, owner and managing director of Virtu Group. “Malta’s closest neighbour, 60 nautical miles to the north, is Sicily which has a population of five million. Sicily is separated from Italy by the Strait of Messina and is, in practical terms, part of mainland Europe.” “This is Virtu’s guiding vision, hence the current deployment of the two vessels on the Malta-Sicily route and our foresight to previously deploy our, first and much smaller passenger/ car fast ferry, San Gwann, in 2001, in anticipation of Malta joining the EU in 2004,” says Portelli. Malta’s insularity is a major disadvantage for the island’s industrial development, and these challenges are recognised at European Union level. Virtu’s contribution in this field is to provide urgent deliveries of essential