Despite the MMH brand being launched in 2017, MMH Malta Ltd’s roots reach far beyond that. “We’ve been operating in the oil and gas sector since 2001,” explains Executive Chairperson Angelique Abela, recalling how her father, Paul Abela, registered two companies – Ableman International Ltd, which specialised in human resource management, and Manticare Ltd, which specialised in the maintenance, engineering and logistics for the oil and gas offshore industry.
In 2008, these two companies formed Ablecare Oilfield Services Group. “We used to operate from an office in San Gwann, and employed a team of about 30 people. As Ablecare Group, we developed a ‘plug-and-play’ concept for our clients, whereby we had direct contact with clients abroad, and prepared set ups in different countries for our clients to operate out of,” Angelique expands.
Fast forward to 2014, when the Government issued a request for proposals for the rehabilitation of the former Malta Shipyard, which comprises 170,000 sqm of space and 1.2km of quayside. “There were six entities who bid for part of the site, however, we were the only local Maltese company to bid for the site in its entirety, and not just part of it,” Angelique recalls, adding that, after two years of thorough due diligence, meetings with Government and negotiations, Ablecare Oilfield Services Group was selected, and took over the site on 1st August 2016.
Their vision was to develop, manage and operate the facilities at the former shipyard, transforming it into The Mediterranean Maritime Hub: a world class regional hub capable of supporting and sustaining challenging oil and gas industry operations, anywhere in the Mediterranean and North African Region.
“I remember we had said at the time that if we truly want to fulfil this vision, the first thing we needed to do was change our name. So, we shifted from Abelcare – which is a play on our surname – to a more neutral name,” continues Angelique, explaining the decision behind the amalgamation of the Group’s subsidiaries, Mainticare Ltd, Ableman International Ltd and the Ableman Academy, into MMH Malta Ltd. This kept the facility neutral, allowing third parties and operators to work from within the Hub.
Delving into the people behind the business, Angelique explains that her father retired last year, and today, she fills the role of Executive Chair of the Board of Directors. Her sister Louisa is also a Director, and handles all HR matters, while her brother rounds off the family business as Director of Operations. An interesting element she points out is the gender balance on the Board of Directors – which benefits from the insights of three women and three men – “and it’s nothing to do with any gender quota!”
An architect and civil engineer by profession, Angelique started her career outside of the family business, before joining when the time was right. “I immediately started shadowing my father and was definitely thrown into the deep end, being involved in everything with regards to taking over the Marsa Shipyard site and issuing of the bond, so it was interesting for me in my personal journey too,” she recalls, adding that her background in architecture helped a lot, particularly when it came to the development of the site. “Today, my role, apart from chairing the Board, is very much focused on strategy, business development and client relations,” she notes.
Meanwhile, Louisa started working in the business part-time from the age of 16. After graduating with a law degree, she started working full-time within the personnel recruitment and logistics department. “I started out as a coordinator and worked my way up – nowadays I head the department and am also a Director on the Board,” she explains, noting that her expertise lies mostly within HR-related matters, but her role is twofold – “I am the HR Director of the company, but I also head personnel recruitment and logistics department for people who work offshore on oil rigs.”
Paul, meanwhile, puts his marine background to good use at MMH Ltd. “He studied Nautical Sciences in Southampton, so when we have operations related to berthing of ships or yacht maintenance, for example, his knowledge and background is very useful,” says Angelique, affirming that it is not an individual effort – “the three of us are very lucky and blessed to have found this harmony between us, where each one is specialised in a particular field, and we work very well together.”
Over the years and since taking over The Mediterranean Maritime Hub, the company has grown steadily and substantially. Looking back on those early days, Angelique recalls, “when we moved to the site in 2016, we had a small team, and suddenly found ourselves with this huge reality. We found ourselves in a startup situation when it came to the capital investment, whilst already operational, because our business was ongoing. Because of this, it took immense effort to coordinate both.”
Today, MMH Ltd employs 96 employees, and handles various activities within the oil and gas and maritime industries. “Our major revenue continues to come from oil and gas, however, since the downturn in the industry, we naturally had to diversify,” explains Angelique, delving into the company’s diverse service offering, from berthing facilities (serving as a hub for ship owners who bring in their ships for maintenance etc) and technical facilities to yachting maintenance facilities, personnel, recruitment and training, while also functioning as a logistics base.
“We work very closely with the industry and we have an open door policy and inclusive approach. That is the success of this place,” Angelique continues, noting that in peak seasons, it is standard for an additional 400 people to enter the site. “These would be a mix of other workers, subcontractors and clients. This is the work that is being generated – the multiplier effect,” she smiles.
“We have already invested €28 million on site, although this may not be immediately apparent,” Angelique smiles, explaining that this went largely into dredging, which was first on the agenda, upgrading of the quayside and investments into equipment and personnel, as well as underground services. “We didn’t invest in glitz and glam, but rather in the infrastructure and services, because without that, we can’t work. It was a massive undertaking, keeping in mind that the site had been abandoned for over 20 years, and it was a mess. Over the years, we have done a lot to upgrade it – we also issued a bond, which required us to have a more corporate structure than the previous ‘relaxed’ family business dynamic,” she continues.
Today, MMH has created a unique facility, not just for Malta, but for the central Mediterranean. “The facility is unique and we’ve seen an increase in repeat clients as well as new ones, who are satisfied by the services being offered here and are choosing the Hub in Malta as their base. This is a success story for us,” they say.
Such has been the success of the first phase of The Mediterranean Maritime Hub project that the team behind it are now looking to consolidate and grow it further by joining forces with key industry players. “We have tackled phase one of the project, and phase two is up ahead. Now, it is about finding the right partners and investors to tackle this stage of investment and development.”
Delving into what phase two will involve, Angelique explains, “we have two remaining areas on site which require further development, as well as further investment in skills and training, because there is currently a huge shortage of skills across the industry, as well as in the equipment and services that we are offering. We have set up the base – now we need to start specialising, in order to keep strengthening our service offering.”
Looking ahead, Louisa agrees, “it is really about finding the right investors who share our vision, in order to take the business to the next level. Our biggest challenge at the moment remains finding the right people and the workforce we require – our work is technical in nature, so the skills required are specialised.”
The opportunities are certainly evident, Angelique continues, noting, “the oil and gas industry is picking up again, and we are expecting to have an increase in activity here in the Mediterranean within the next year.” Acknowledging that while Russia’s war on Ukraine is an unfortunate situation, the Executive Director points out that it is actually proving positive for their industry, as Europe looks to find an alternative to Russian oil and gas.
Meanwhile, a definite challenge brought about by the Russia-Ukraine situation, Louisa adds, is the loss of Ukrainian personnel within the marine sector. “It’s not been easy, even for those who do remain, and are suffering emotional distress at the situation unfolding in their home country,” she says, admitting that it’s a difficult scenario to navigate.
Indeed, “while we’re seeing projects being kicked off within the oil and gas sector, challenges with personnel shortages make it a double-edged sword,” Angelique concludes, looking ahead to what is sure to be a challenging few years which will lead to a brighter future, with consolidation of the maritime industry and promising growth for the sector.
Photos by Inigo Taylor
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