Submarine Cables and Pipelines

The Continental Shelf Department is responsible for licensing and regulating the laying and maintenance of submarine cables and pipelines on Malta’s continental shelf and within Malta’s internal and territorial waters as well as any surveys conducted for such purpose.

 
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Schematic diagram showing Malta-Sicily interconnector and communication cables
 
Licensing Procedure

The laying of submarine cables and pipelines on Malta's continental shelf (including the internal waters and territorial waters) requires a licence from the Continental Shelf Department in accordance with Regulation 5 of the Continental Shelf Regulations (S.L. 535.02). The licence is required for any surveying work necessary for the laying of the submarine cables or pipelines and for the laying and maintenance of such cables and pipelines.

The application is usually a two stage process, one for the surveying work and one for the laying and maintenance of the submarine cables or pipelines as described below. 
 
(a)     Application for a licence to carry out a submarine cable/pipeline route survey 
 
Applications for the surveying of the continental shelf (including the internal waters and territorial waters) for the purpose of laying of submarine cables or pipelines shall be submitted to the Director General, Continental Shelf Department on dgcs.csmalta@gov.mt​ at least four (4) months before the proposed date of commencement of the surveying works. Each application shall include as a minimum the following information:
  • Background information on the project and on the applicant and owner of the project, if different. In case of a consortium or joint venture, details of the separate partners will be required;
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  • A map of the planned survey route including any buffer zones (in WGS84 shapefile format);
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  • Indicative dates for the planned survey operations;
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  • A detailed description of the data, samples and cores planned to be acquired;
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  • Technical specifications of the survey vessel, including acoustic, sampling, coring and other scientific equipment on board;
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  • Information concerning the qualifications of the personnel to be employed for the survey.
 
Each application for a cable route survey shall be accompanied by a one-time administrative charge of ten thousand euro (€10,000).  Please contact the Director General, Continental Shelf Department on dgcs.csmalta@gov.mt for the necessary bank details. 
  
In the case of surveying for a submarine pipeline route, any charges or fees are to be agreed between the Government and the applicant on a case by case basis.
 
The Continental Shelf Department will consult with other entities prior to granting a licence. The licence will contain conditions which include but are not limited to the provision of a copy of the data and a final report. 
 
(b)     Application for a licence to lay and maintain a submarine cable/pipeline
 
Applications for the laying and maintenance of submarine cables or pipelines on Malta's continental shelf (including the internal waters and territorial waters) shall be submitted to the Director General, Continental Shelf Department on dgcs.csmalta@gov.mt at least four (4) months before the proposed date of commencement of the laying works.
 
Each application shall include as a minimum the following information:
  • Background information on the project and on the applicant and owner of the project, if different. In case of a consortium or joint venture, details of the separate partners will be required;
  •  
  • Copies of the annual reports and balance sheets for the three years immediately preceding the application;
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  • A map of the final planned route (in WGS84 shapefile format);
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  • Indicative dates for the planned laying operations;
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  • The proposed design and the proposed construction methods and plans for the laying of the submarine cable or pipeline;
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  • Technical specifications of the laying vessel, including the equipment that will be used;
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  • Information concerning the qualifications of the personnel to be employed for the project.
 
In the case of submarine pipelines, the licensing process takes longer and requires additional details. In this case, any charges or fees are to be agreed between the Government and the applicant on a case by case basis. Please contact the Director General, Continental Shelf Department on dgcs.csmalta@gov.mt for more information.
 
The Continental Shelf Department will consult with other entities prior to granting a licence. The licence will contain conditions which include but are not limited to reasonable measures for the exploration of the continental shelf, the exploitation of its natural resources, the prevention, reduction and control of pollution and the provision of a copy of the final report.
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Read more about Submarine Cables and Pipelines

"In the last 25 years, submarine cables have become a dominant element in the world's economy. It is not too much to say that, without them, it is hard to see how the present world economy could function. The internet is essential to nearly all forms of international trade: 95 per cent of intercontinental, and a large proportion of other international, internet traffic travels by means of submarine cables.

The crucial development that enabled the modern systems was the development of fibre-optic cables: glass fibres conveying signals by light rather than electric current." [Chapter 19, United Nations 2016].

"The diameter of the fibre-optic cables on the abyssal plain is about 17-20 - that is, the width of a typical garden hose. On the continental shelf, the width of the cable has to be greater - about 28-50 millimetres - to allow for the extra armour to protect it from impacts and abrasion in these more dynamic waters and the greater threats from shipping and bottom trawling." [Carter et al., 2009].

"Most of the world's submarine power cables are found in the waters around Europe. The cables fall into one of two classes, depending on whether the electricity is carried as direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC). The choice depends on several factors, including the length of the submarine cable and the transmission capacity needed: DC cables are preferred for longer distances and higher transmission capacities.

"Submarine pipelines are used for transporting three main substances: gas, and water. Submarine gas and oil pipelines fall into three groups: intra-field pipelines, which are used to bring the oil or gas from well-heads to a point within the operating field for collection, processing and onward transport; export pipelines, which transport the gas and oil to land; and transport pipelines, which have no necessary connection with the operating field, but transport gas or oil between two places on land. The last category is often included with the export pipelines." [Chapter 19; United Nations 2016]

"Before a pipeline can be laid, the proposed route is surveyed using acoustic seabed mapping technology and underwater cameras to identify any obstacles such as natural bedrock formations, boulders, seabed valleys or migrating sand dunes as well as shipwrecks, other cables and pipelines and dumped ammunition. The pipe is then laid along the surveyed route using either a specialised pipe-laying vessel or else a pull/tow system where the pipeline is built onshore and then towed by ship to its desired location. The first process usually involves one pipe-laying vessel supported by barges that supply the ship with pipe sections plus other support ships that monitor the seabed. Pipe sections are welded together on board, the joints tested (by ultrasound) and the pipe coated with an anticorrosion application.

Pipelines are maintained and inspected using a "pig", a tool that can be inserted one end of the pipeline and pushed by the fluid to the other end. The most basic pigs are used to clean the inside of the pipes; highly-complex "smart pigs" can inspect the condition and thickness of the pipeline and detect points of corrosion or fracturing." [Chapter 21; United Nations 2016]

"Pipelines are monitored for leakage by analog and computer-assisted systems." [Stafford and Williams, 1996].


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The Enemalta intercon
nector on the ship’s turntable

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The Enemalta
interconnector cable laying vessel at Qalet Marku


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A cross section view of the submarine interconnector Enemalta cable


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Example of submarine cable laying process


 
References

Carter, L., Burnett, D. Drew, S. Marle, G. Hagadorn, L. Bartlett-McNeil, D., and Irvine, N. (2009). Submarine Cables and the Oceans - Connecting the World. UNEP-WCMC Biodiversity Series No. 31. ICPC/UNEP/UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge (England).

Stafford, M., Williams, N. (1996). Pipeline leak detection study, UK Health and Safety Executive - Offshore Technology Report. Bechtel Ltd., London, p. 58.

Simcock, A. (2016). The First Global Integrated Marine Assessment, World Ocean Assessment 1, Chapter 19, Submarine Cables and Pipelines, United Nations.

Harris, P. et al. (2016), The First Global Integrated Marine Assessment, World Ocean Assessment 1, Chapter 21, Offshore Hydrocarbon Industries, United Nations.