Hauliers say 'Sicilians moving in on Maltese business’

Sicilian hauliers charge considerably less than their Maltese counterparts, leaving many to wonder how the Sicilians could stand to make any profit • One of the accusations is that the lack of controls make it ideal for the transportation of contraband and illegal substances

Maltese hauliers lament the lack of controls on Sicilian truckers arriving in Malta
Maltese hauliers lament the lack of controls on Sicilian truckers arriving in Malta

A total absence of controls at Malta’s points of entry might be paving the way for Sicilian contraband, including drugs, as well as inadvertently facilitating a Sicilian takeover of the lucrative freight haulage market between Sicily and Malta.

Maltese hauliers – including numerous one-man outfits – are up in arms because, they told MaltaToday, Maltese authorities are not doing anything to control the influx of Sicilian trucks who reach Malta by ferry.

“When we go to Sicily to collect freight to deliver to Malta, as soon as we arrive there, port authorities immediately ask us for all kind of documentation,” one Maltese haulier said.

He explained that he would have to present his driving licence, vehicle insurance, a bill of goods to be collected, proof of payment of the goods to be collected, certified insurance for the goods, as well as a signed document from the company where the goods are to be collected from and certifying, what, when and how much is to be collected.

“Failure to present any of the documents could result in me receiving a minimum fine of €2,500 or I could even be banned from driving in Italy for three months,” the haulier said.

“And yet, nothing of the sort happens on this side, and Sicilian truckers are allowed in with no control whatsoever.”

And therein lies the biggest worry.

Sicilian hauliers charge considerably less than their Maltese counterparts, leaving many to wonder how the Sicilians could stand to make any profit.

One of the accusations is that the lack of controls make it ideal for the transportation of contraband and illegal substances.

“And because they are charging such low prices for haulage to Malta, we are finding it ever more difficult to fill our own trucks,” the haulier said.

He and others believe that if some controls are introduced in Malta – on par at least with the controls Italian authorities impose on Maltese hauliers in Sicily – there would be many less Sicilian truckers coming to Malta, clearing the way to a level playing field, and possibly curbing the importation of drugs and contraband.

Maltese hauliers are feeling the heat as the number of Sicilian haulage providers and even companies offering direct freight service to Malta is on the increase.

A number of Maltese self-employed, licensed hauliers travel frequently to Sicily to pick up and deliver back to Malta furniture items, heavy equipment, large packages and any other freight they are contracted for. Most make multiple trips a week, using the daily catamaran service between the two islands.

But they are now facing fierce competition from Sicilian hauliers who are also offering the same service. Moreover, many companies and large stores in Sicily are now also offering freight transport services to Malta themselves.

Bastjan Attard, 38, told MaltaToday he goes up to Sicily two or three times a week. On very rare occasions, he makes the trip on behalf of only one client, usually to bring over a consignment of furniture.

Like numerous other hauliers, Attard is self-employed and owns only one truck. The vast majority of his customers are individuals or couples who go up to Sicily to save money on their purchases.

“Many young couples are buying their home furniture from Sicily, because it is apparently quite cheaper than buying locally,” he said. “Most of them make a trip to Sicily by themselves to order the furniture and then they arrange for me to collect the items once ready for delivery.”

Attard says he charges a few hundred Euros – “definitely less than €1,000” – for a full truckload. That includes all his costs like the ferry ticket, diesel and wages for a helper.

His profits are minimal, he says, when one considers he would spend a day in Sicily, loading the furniture and delivering it to his clients in Malta.

But he insists he cannot afford to raise prices, or he would soon find himself out of business.

“There are many others like me who offer the same service and we often meet when travelling,” he said. “But now we are seeing increasing number of Sicilians doing the same thing too.”

Attard said he suspects that many large companies and stores in Sicily are starting to insist on having Sicilian companies and drivers making the deliveries, even to Malta.

Another haulier, William Galea, agreed.

“I know we can’t stop the competition and that these Sicilians too have a right to come to Malta with their freight, but it seems as though we are being summarily cut out of the equation,” he told MaltaToday.

Galea said that for the past few years, he had frequent and regular contracts to collect items from a number of well-known superstores in Sicily and mainland Italy, including Ikea, Mondo Convenienza, Maisons du Monde and Bricoman.

But he complained that the number of Sicilian trucks delivering goods to Malta was on the increase, or at least their frequency was.

“I know for a fact that one of the companies is telling Maltese clients that they provide their own delivery service to Malta and that they will not accept to load the items onto Maltese drivers’ trucks,” he said.

Another Maltese truck owner, who preferred not to be named, said that he frequently went to Sicily to deliver perishable goods to Sicilian-owned restaurants and businesses in Malta.

He said that one restaurant owner had told him that he had been approached by a haulage company in Sicily and offered much better terms for the delivery of goods to Malta.

“When he told me the prices, I knew I could not match them and I don’t understand how they are able to sustain them,” the man said.

It seems that it is not only self-employed hauliers who are starting to feel the heat from Sicilian competition.

A large Maltese wholesaler of printing and office equipment said that he had to drop the Maltese haulage company that he had worked with for the past seven years, in favour of independent Sicilian and Italian hauliers who were much cheaper and still delivered the freight on time.

“This is a no-brainer, and much as I would like to have continued supporting Maltese companies, it does not make business sense to pick the more expensive option, with all other things being equal.”

A spokesman for the Malta Chamber of Commerce told MaltaToday that the Chamber finds no issue whatsoever with competition as long as this is free and fair, with companies operating within their full legal obligations, offering competitive services to traders and customers alike.

“The Malta Chamber advocates a level playing field amongst operators of all fields, irrespective of their nationality or origin,” he said.

On a related note, the Malta Chamber has been vociferous in the past on the issue of free movement of goods as it has always deemed it unacceptable to allow abuse of the free market, allowing inconsistencies in procedures adopted at different points of the Grand Harbour.

“Different procedures applied on different quays are allowing certain cargo into Malta without the necessary controls or audit trail certification,” the spokesman said. “Such lack of control hampers the duty of the competent authorities to carry out the necessary follow-ups and ascertain that cargo adheres to local and European laws and standards.”

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