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Qatar eyeing big Malta energy investment

April 20, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

VALLETTA, Malta, April 20 (UPI) -- Qatar is eyeing $1.3 billion in investments in Malta's Enemalta Corp. energy company and a natural gas distribution hub on the island, a local report indicated this week.

A Tuesday visit by Qatari ruler Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to Malta, where he met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, resulted in the signing of six agreements between the countries covering education, health, employment and the economy.

The talks also paved the way for closer energy ties, which will likely result in a major investment in Enemalta as a strategic partner for state-owned Qatargas, the English-language newspaper Malta Today reported.

Citing senior Maltese and Qatari sources, the publication said a deal is near on establishing a distribution hub for Qatari natural gas along the Delimara Peninsula on the main island's southeastern tip.

The site of the facility would likely be near the heavy fuel oil-burning Delimara power station, which is about to open a $216 million addition and could in the future be converted to burn natural gas, the newspaper said.

The report indicated officials have scouted sites along the Delimara coast that could be used to house bunkering and docking facilities for a gas hub, which would be targeted to customers in Europe and Africa.

The sources said even as Hamad and Gonzi were conducting the state visit, negotiations on the deal were being conducted along the sidelines by Maltese Finance Minister Tonio Fenech and Qatari Minister of Energy and Industry Mohamed bin Saleh al-Sada.

The possible investment in coming in the context of a deepening relationship between the countries. The momentum picked up steam during the Libyan crisis, when Qatar praised the island nation for providing assistance to injured civilians.

During the state visit, Gonzi announced his country was opening an embassy in Doha.

"We have always enjoyed good ties with Qatar, which grew even stronger throughout last year when Qatar used Malta as its hub for sending humanitarian aid to Libya during the uprising," Gonzi said.

Malta is also hoping to secure reliable supplies of oil and gas from Libya under its new government.

Fenech met with Libyan Oil and Gas Undersecretary Umar Shakmak this month in hopes of gaining supplies on favorable terms, the English-language Libyan Herald reported.

The newspaper said the pair discussed other ways Libya and Malta could enhance their relationship, including a meeting between Maltese technical experts and specialists from the Libya National Oil Corp.

Malta has no domestic production of energy sources and depends totally on oil imports -- the only EU member state that does so. Oil is the only type of energy used for electricity generation in the country, with the transportation sector dominating its energy consumption.

Malta's electricity generation has been exclusively based on oil since 1995 -- the last year that hard coal was used. Since then, its total generation has been steadily increasing.

At the same time, Malta's economy is in better shape than many of the debt-laden members of the eurozone. The European Commission expects the country's exports to increase by 4 percent this year while employment should be stable at just less than 7 percent, compared to more than 10 percent in the eurozone as a whole.

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