Women in Yachting, An Interview Series – Part 20: Alison Vassallo, Fenech and Fenech Advocates

Read about Daphne D’Offay, Head of the Yachting Department & Partner of Fenech and Fenech Advocates, how she got started and stays inspired.

As the yachting industry continues to grow, more and more women are making a significant impact on this traditionally male-dominated space. Here, YATCO takes the time to get to know some of these women – from all areas of the market – and highlight the important work that they contribute to the industry.

Alison Vassallo is a Partner of Fenech and Fenech Advocates and heads the Yachting Department. She also works within the Marine Litigation Department. 

For the past 17 years she has advised and co-ordinated projects for owners and financiers relating to the acquisition and sale of private and commercial yachts with regard to registration, financing, importation, chartering, leasing and fiscal requirements and solutions. Her areas of practice within the firm also embrace all aspects of maritime law including EU shipping law. 

Alison is a Member of the Council and Executive Board of the Malta Chamber of Commerce and also Chairperson of the Yachting Trade Section within the Malta Chamber of Commerce. She is also a Board Member of the Yachting sub-committee formed within the Malta Maritime Law Association. Earlier this year she was appointed as Malta Legal Representative to MYBA.

Featuring Alison Vassallo, Head of the Yachting Department & Partner of Fenech and Fenech Advocates

What drew you to the yachting world?

I fell into yachting through a combination of study, career choices and fate. I graduated as a lawyer from the University of Malta and immediately enrolled in a Masters in International Maritime Law at the International Maritime Law Institute (IMO) in Malta. Being born and raised here, I was perhaps inevitably always drawn to the sea and largely with this influence, I always enjoyed shipping and maritime subjects the most. 

With a law degree and a master’s degree in shipping, I had the tools at hand to pursue the opportunities presented to me when I entered the world of legal practice. That said, I would never really have dreamt that my path would lead me to the yachting world that has now become an integral part of my life. 

How did you get your start in yachting?

I joined Fenech & Fenech as an associate with the Marine Litigation Department in 2006 and it coincided with the Government introducing several legal and fiscal incentives targeting yachting.  While our firm has always been an internationally acclaimed leader in shipping law, with dedicated Marine Litigation, Ship Finance and Ship Registration Departments, there was no specialized yachting department at the time.  Ann Fenech, who heads the marine litigation department, asked whether I would be willing to research the subject and build up a practice within the firm. I grasped the opportunity presented to me with both hands and poured my heart and energy into building our practice in this niche sector to what it is today. Drawing on and building on the firm’s Ship Registration, Ship Finance, Tax and Employment Law expertise while integrating the specific legal and tax solutions available in Malta, the yachting department was created to target and service superyacht owners and financiers.

I grasped the opportunity presented to me with both hands and poured my heart and energy into building our practice in this niche sector to what it is today 

With yachting is not a subject you would study at University, I learned the ropes from the ground up, familiarizing myself with the industry and building a network of contacts overseas through attending boat shows, publishing and eventually speaking at several events. Over the years, with the benefit of a team of professionals within the firm, we have built a strong portfolio of clients who benefit from the 360-degree service that we offer.  

Who are some influential people in your life that you look up to?  

I have had the tremendous privilege of being trained and mentored by and for many years working alongside Ann Fenech who has built a formidable career as an internationally acclaimed shipping lawyer and who currently holds the role of Vice President of the Comite Maritime International.  

I will always look up to her tenacity, professionalism, passion and dedication to the profession and to her clients. From very early on, she entrusted me with the handling of key clients and allowed me a free hand to grow and develop which instilled in me the confidence to seek my own path. All this while knowing that I could always turn to her for guidance and to draw on her vast experience which she has always unhesitatingly and generously shared. I am and shall remain forever grateful to her for everything she has taught me.  

What are some challenges you face and how do you overcome them?  

Challenges are what push your boundaries and where lessons are learned. In my view, it is important to try and face them to the best of our ability. The past years have presented their fair share of challenges – the onset of the pandemic delivered a severe blow to the 2020 season for local service providers that depend on the industry. It was a time when the Yachting Services Business Section within the Malta Chamber (which I chair) worked relentlessly with the authorities to find solutions to continue servicing yachts arriving in Malta for delivery and for specific flagging and importation requirements while abiding by Government health requirements.  

Challenges are what push your boundaries and where lessons are learned. In my view, it’s important to try and face them to the best of our ability. 

However, what is impressive about this industry is its resilience. We are now experiencing an unprecedented boom in yacht sales and purchases worldwide, with dried-up inventories and shipyards’ orderbooks full to the brim.  It is undeniable that this ultimately boils down to human nature – people who can afford yachts have realized that there has never been a better time to own one since it offers the perfect environment to isolate with one’s family. 

We are now experiencing an unprecedented boom in yacht sales and purchases worldwide, with dried-up inventories and shipyards’ orderbooks full to the brim. 

What advice would you give you someone who is starting in the yachting industry?  

A foundation in shipping law definitely helps when pursuing a career in the yachting legal profession. Other than that, a strong work ethic, determination and love for the job. 

What is the most rewarding/enjoyable element of your job? 

Without a doubt, the most rewarding element is a satisfied client; one that refers you to their friends and acquaintances based on their experience of the service you have offered them. The most enjoyable is the social aspect of this world – it does not take long to realise that even on the international scale, the industry is a relatively small and closely knit one where one builds lifelong contacts and friends.  

The most enjoyable is the social aspect of this world – it does not take long to realize that even on the international scale, the industry is a relatively small and closely knit one where one builds lifelong contacts and friends.

What is your favorite thing about working in the yacht market? 

It is a combination of working in a highly professional environment, which brings together the yacht building and refit industries (and the varied artisan skills on which they are based), designers, crew and project managers on the one hand, and the pleasure of meeting clients for whom their yacht is synonymous with the time they get to spend with their families away from the daily grind

What are you currently working on and what keeps you motivated? 

Earlier this year, I co-organized the first Malta Superyacht Symposium in my capacity of Chair of the Yachting Services Business Section within the Malta Chamber. The event was organized in conjunction with the Malta Maritime Law Association and was supported by Transport Malta and Yachting Malta. Our aim is to highlight the inroads Malta has achieved as a leading superyacht jurisdiction and, through various consultation sessions, to lay the groundwork for the development of policies and legislation to continue to improve on what Malta has to offer to the international yachting community.  

What keeps me motivated is a passion for the superyacht industry and the wish to continue giving my full contribution for the benefit of all its various players

You can connect with Alison on LinkedIn here.  


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