Monday 19 November 2018

Ireland's ocean economy sets sail for the Middle East and North Africa

Companies which are serious about exporting, growing and future-proofing their business should put continuous research at the heart of their strategy.
Companies which are serious about exporting, growing and future-proofing their business should put continuous research at the heart of their strategy.

Alan O'Mahony

From David Attenborough's popular Blue Planet to stories of marine plastic pollution and the need to protect the Arctic, the ocean has never been so prominent in the media. Irish companies that sell solutions into the burgeoning ocean economy are setting sail to capture opportunities across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Umayyad people who thrived in today's Persian Gulf established trade routes in the Middle East from as early as the 7th century. Since then, the area's ports have looked to capitalise on their strategic geographical location by linking several of the world's busiest trade routes and acting as hubs for other ports in the region and beyond.

The Middle East currently handles more than 20pc of global seaborne trade, a staggering statistic when you consider that the region only accounts for 3pc of global GDP. Major developments of port infrastructure and smart investments into related services have created a range of opportunities for companies across sectors, including construction and engineering services, navigation and safety, ICT and Internet of Things (IoT), marine environment monitoring, and education and training.

Mainport Holdings is an example of an Irish company focused on exploiting the surge in seaborne traffic. Chief executive Dave Ronayne said: "Mainport Holdings sees continuing opportunities in the Middle East region as cargo volumes increase annually."

In September, Enterprise Ireland's MENA team invited the UAE Infrastructure and Maritime Minister, Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, along with 26 senior stakeholders from the ports and maritime industry covering the entire Gulf region and Egypt, to partake in a three-day trade mission. The mission aimed to promote bilateral trade across the global port infrastructure and maritime spectrum, to cultivate collaboration between Irish and Middle Eastern organisations, to highlight the Irish maritime capability and to establish future partnership and co-operation agreements with Irish universities and institutes that specialise in marine transportation.

"Techworks Marine is focusing its market expansion in the Middle East region as a key priority area. The inward buyer mission organised by Enterprise Ireland enabled us to develop key contacts, which we are going to meet when we attend the WETEX and Seatrade exhibitions in Dubai later this month," said Techworks Marine ceo Charlotte O'Kelly

Ports across the Middle East have revealed ambitious plans to double capacity to approximately 57 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) by 2030. The UAE is determined to become the world's biggest port hub by 2021. Rapid expansion of major ports will create challenges, such as rising overcapacity, high exposure to less profitable transhipment, and lagging productivity. Port operators will have to focus efforts on increasing efficiencies and improving productivity if these looming threats become real problems for investors.

Possible solutions include optimising operational performance by implementing digital smart-port technologies. Ireland is internationally recognised as a leading hub for marine technology innovation due to its significant marine resource, leading technology expertise and world-class testbed infrastructures. Irish companies are now well placed to partner with port operators and provide them with insights, cloud-based services and IoT solutions at a much more reasonable cost than major infrastructure upgrades.

One example is the National Maritime Communications Cluster, a cross-agency initiative that includes Irish companies Fijowave, Druid Software and Davra Networks. The cluster brings together national and international business partners, Irish academic centres of excellence and government agencies. It has developed a standards-based scalable platform to provide communications and product solutions for maritime applications. It also builds IoT, voice and data-related services at sea comparable with current and future terrestrial services.

The tidal wave of innovation in Ireland is fast approaching foreign shores. Irish companies and institutions will be at the forefront of enabling international partners to create value, cut costs and increase revenues long into the future. Enterprise Ireland continues to work closely with Irish companies of all sizes to identify and seize new opportunities in this changing landscape.

  • Alan O'Mahony is a market executive for Southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa at Enterprise Ireland.

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