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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Malta 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Malta at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Valletta does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Malta-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is a moderate risk of crime in Valletta. Crimes of opportunity and violent crime do occur. Most street crimes are non-violent and non-confrontational, and range from scams to petty theft. Theft of cell phones, computers, portable electronics, money, and jewelry is common. Most street criminals are unarmed, and are not prone to gratuitous violence. Victims of street crime are often inattentive targets of opportunity. Women should keep purses zipped and wear the shoulder straps of bags across the chest. Keep valuables in front pockets. In 2018, crime statistics revealed that theft was the predominant criminal offense, making up just under half of the crimes committed in Malta. Crime report statistics from Malta show a large increase in fraud to 1,032 reported incidents in 2018, from 787 in 2017, along with a substantial decrease in pickpocketing at 1,149 reported incidents in 2018, down from 2,144 in 2017. Assaults numbered under 900, with the peak at the height of tourism season in June, July, and August.

Nationwide crime rates are higher in tourists areas, to include St. Julians, Mdina, Valletta, Floriana, Sliema, Saint Paul’s Bay, and Ta’ Xbiex.

Densely populated Paceville’s draw is the nightclub and restaurant scene, known for excessive alcohol consumption and the heavy-handed tactics of nightclub bouncers. Foreign visitors have reported isolated incidents and injuries.

There have been reported incidents of spiked drinks, leading to theft and assault. In July 2018, a disgruntled former employee stabbed to death a nightclub owner, and in October 2018, a bouncer assaulted a U.S. citizen. Monitor your drinks, be aware of belongings (especially smartphones), and avoid confrontations by departing the area should an issue present itself. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Exercise caution when using any ATM. Use ATMs inside shopping malls, hotels, and banks, since these are normally high-traffic areas monitored by security guards/cameras. Before approaching the ATM, scan the area for any suspicious persons or activity. Should anyone approach you while you are withdrawing money, immediately cancel the transaction and leave the area. Should you encounter issues while using the ATM, never accept unrequested assistance. Avoid the vicinity of an ATM during servicing. Scan ATMs for any odd or out-of-place device (especially around the area of the card reader), an altered keypad, and/or any other suspicious characteristics. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Persons living in Malta should upgrade residential security to reduce vulnerability to residential crime. Intrusion alarms, solid perimeter barriers, perimeter lighting, telephone intercom system, and window/door grilles are all part of a comprehensive residential security program.

Violent crime is comparatively lower than in many of Malta’s EU counterparts. Armed violence and assaults against the public or targeting of foreigners remain uncommon. If confronted by an armed individual, comply immediately, avoid making sudden movements, and do not offer any form of resistance. Criminals could perceive any hesitation on your part as a threat, which may result in unnecessary violence.

Police statistics note 120 sexual offenses in 2018, up from 102 in 2017. There were two documented cases of human trafficking in Malta in 2018.

There were three pipe bomb attacks in Malta in 2017, but none in 2018. However, in May 2018, a bomb may have caused an explosion at a garage in Gharghur, according to media reports. This incident sent one man to a hospital.

Cybersecurity Issues

Computer-related crime continues to be an area of concern for the Maltese, as cybercrimes have risen significantly from a decade ago. In 2018, Malta reported 224 cases of computer misuse; fewer than 190 computer misuse crimes occurred in 2017. The Malta Information and Technology Agency publishes a National Cyber Security Strategy annually.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions vary significantly depending on use, illumination, and state of repair, but are generally fair to good. Exercise caution while traveling on older roads, particularly in smaller villages, due to narrow alleys and inexperienced/irresponsible drivers. Road conditions can and do deteriorate quickly even with small amounts of rain, creating slippery conditions. Many roads also experience washouts during heavy rains. Consequently, minor and major traffic accidents occur frequently on many roadways, and delays can last hours.

Road construction and road wear also present unique safety challenges. Potholes pock most secondary roads. Vegetation can grow up to and over the edge of the road, particularly during the rainy season, causing a lack of visibility on bends and concealing hazards at the side of the road. Stone walls, some of which reach great height and may limit a driver’s field of vision, usually ring secondary roadways.

The leading causes of motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents involving U.S. citizens are driver error (e.g. unfamiliar road signs, unusual driving customs/courtesies) and pedestrian hazards; the former is usually due to unfamiliarity with right-side drive vehicles and practices, and simple confusion by motorists driving in a foreign country. For example, double parking is illegal, but the practice is an everyday occurrence on most streets. It is common for traffic to stop abruptly when a delivery truck parks in a travel lane to unload cargo, or when a driver places a car in reverse to parallel park. Pay attention to drivers who may change lanes abruptly to avoid a double-parked car. Right-of-way and yield laws are similar to those in the U.S., but can seem awkward and confusing for drivers accustomed to driving in larger metropolitan areas, particularly at roundabouts. Unless you are traveling on a priority road, vehicles coming from the directional right have the right-of-way. All drivers should be familiar with navigating roundabout road junctions.

The speed limit is 60 kph (~35 mph) but drops to 30 kph (~20 mph) in most residential areas. There are speed cameras, designated by a pictograph of a camera, throughout the island.

Traffic enforcement practices are lax, and the resulting road culture reflects a more cavalier attitude, often resulting in fender benders and occasional serious accidents. Drivers involved in traffic accidents should attempt to exchange insurance information with the other party and summon a traffic warden. Local law does not require operators involved in a road traffic accident to remain at the scene until police arrive to make a report if there is no personal injury, or if the drivers agree upon the parameters of the accident. This is especially the case in simple front-to-rear end collisions, where you should not expect the police to come. Drivers (and rental cars) are required to carry a front-to-rear collision form in their vehicle. You can obtain this form from the website of most local insurance companies.

Talking/texting on a cell phone while driving is illegal and highly inadvisable. Fines for the use of mobile devices and other infractions while driving increased dramatically in 2016, with some reaching over 200 euros for a first offense. In 2017, Malta implemented a penalty point system for all drivers with traffic violations.

Thieves can and do snatch valuables through open car windows. Do not get out of the car if there are suspicious looking persons nearby; instead, drive away. Be suspicious of anyone who hails you or tries to get your attention while you are in/near your car.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

The most common form of mass transportation is the bus. Although the fleet of buses is new, schedules are somewhat unreliable. Bus drivers drive aggressively, and have been involved in accidents.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Valletta. There were no acts of indigenous or regional terrorism in Malta in 2018.

There is a continuing threat in Europe from persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis. Remain aware of the potential for terrorist attacks against public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructures, and take every precaution to be aware of surroundings and adopt appropriate safety measures to protect yourself while traveling. Exercise particular caution at holiday festivals/events. The U.S. continues to work closely with European allies on the threat from international terrorism, including from ISIS and al-Qa’ida.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Valletta.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The most common environmental hazard is heavy rain and flash flooding of low-lying roads that may become impassable with 30-45 centimeters (12-18 in) or more of standing water. Typically, roads do not drain well. Flooding impacts key infrastructure (e.g. emergency services, communications, and utilities).

Critical Infrastructure

Malta has a good record of industrial and transportation safety, and follows EU guidelines. The Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure is the lead agency overseeing industrial and transport safety: Block B, Triq Francesco Buonamici, Floriana FRN 1700, Tel: +356 2292 2000

Economic Concerns

Economic espionage concerns are on par with other EU countries.

Personal Identity Concerns

Malta has undergone a rapid evolution of its LGBTI laws, to the point that the country regularly ranks as providing the most progressive LGBTI rights in Europe. The government has led the changes, but much of society has quickly adopted the same progressive attitude, breaking from a long history of social conservatism. Malta extended its hate crime laws to offer protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Gay couples can marry under the revised Marriage Law. Statistics covering actual hate crime offenses are not specifically broken out of larger reporting; however, there is no evidence to suggest that Malta performs negatively in this regard.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug offenses numbered 348 in 2018, up from 310 in 2017, with possession comprising the vast majority of drug-related crime. Illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and synthetic designer drugs) are available. The sale and distribution of drugs often occurs near/around nightclubs. While drug-related criminality does not usually affect U.S. tourists or business travelers, be aware that Malta has the same types of drug-related crime as any major U.S. city. The increase in drug seizures, arrests, and drug-related crimes suggests an increase in drug use in Malta.

Larger seizures in 2018 included:

  • 11 tons of cannabis hidden in two shipping containers in September
  • 45 kilos of cocaine in a shipping container in November
  • 6 tons of hashish located in a shipping container in December
  • 48 kilos of cocaine in a shipping container in December
  • 90 kilos of cocaine in a shipping container in December

 

The government has prioritized the arrest and prosecution of offenders; persons caught trafficking narcotics can expect severe penalties and lengthy pre-trial confinement (up to or exceeding two years) ahead of a contested trial. Foreign defendants are a flight risk and rarely receive bail.

Police Response

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

While incidents of police detention or harassment have occurred, they are not common. Should an encounter with police occur, respect and cooperation are the best ways to avoid problems. Do not do anything (e.g. physical resistance, attempts to flee) that could put personal safety at risk. U.S. citizens should call American Citizens Services at the U.S. Embassy at +356-2561-4000.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizens are encouraged to contact the local police (112) and American Citizen Services if they are involved in an accident or become the victim of a crime. Authorities often contact the U.S. Embassy regarding incidents involving U.S. citizens.

Police: 112 or 119

Fire: 112 or 199

Ambulance: 112 or 196

U.S. Embassy Switchboard (24/7): +356-2561-4000

For local first responders, refer to the Embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

The Malta Police Force (MPF) is the only law enforcement agency in the country. The MPF is broken into several divisions: Administration, Criminal investigations, Drugs, Vice/Economic Crime, Protective Services, Special Branch, Forensic Science Laboratory, and Community Policing. The police force divides into 13 districts: 12 on Malta and one on Gozo.

While the MPF is responsible for internal security, maintaining law and order, and enforcing the law, the Armed Forces of Malta may assist if requested. The appointed Police Commissioner is under the supervision of the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security.

The Armed Forces of Malta are responsible for external defense, with an emphasis on protecting the country's territorial waters and airspace. The Commander of the Armed Forces is also under the supervision of the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security.

Medical Emergencies

Reach the fire department and ambulance service by dialing 112. Medical facilities are above average and generally offer the standard of care available in most developed countries. Medical clinic facilities provide limited, basic medical treatment; several major hospitals offer comprehensive medical treatment.

Pharmacies carry most prescription drugs. Many drugs are available without a prescription. However, plan accordingly and bring your needed prescriptions with you. For more information, refer to OSAC’s Report, Traveling with Medications.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Medilink: +356 2278 5785

Air Ambulance Services: +356 2369 6276

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Malta.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no active Country Council in Malta. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Valletta, Ta’Qali National Park, Attard, ATD 4000

Opening Hours: 0800-1630, closed on U.S. and Maltese holidays. For Consular hours and appointments, visit the Consular Section Website.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Operator: +356-2561-4000

Marine Post One: +356-2561-4150

Website: http://mt.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance 

U.S. citizens traveling in Malta are encouraged to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP is a free service that helps the U.S. Embassy disseminate information about safety conditions and contact travelers in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Malta Country Information Sheet

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