The combination of a global pandemic and Brexit has affected businesses across every sector in Ireland – and the marine industry is no different. The potential loss of access to UK fishing waters in the future has meant this sector could suffer more than most.
In addition, some ferry and ship freight companies have had to develop alternative services, bypassing the UK entirely. But new and extended shipping services have been established during 2020 and 2021, strengthening Ireland’s connectivity to international markets.
This connectivity is vital for an island nation like Ireland, where the marine sector has been growing steadily for many years. In addition, investment in infrastructure, new skills and knowledge that will develop new solutions for marine renewable energy, manufacturing and engineering other offshore support services is increasing.
Work has also focused on strengthening established marine sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism, and the marinisation of existing industries such as ICT, food, clean/green and finance into a range of marine-related markets.
We have some great examples in the Marine Ireland Industry Network (MIIN) of Irish companies identifying and targeting these opportunities, including Bio-Marine Ingredients in Monaghan. Bio-Marine extracts high-value lipid and protein products from Blue Whiting, a previously considered low-value fish by the seafood processing industry. The production of high-end bioproducts from marine biological materials is an emerging growth area in the Blue Economy.
Meanwhile, Wicklow based Voyager IP specialise in providing high-end connectivity solutions to the superyacht industry, while Vilicom provide communications systems for the Offshore Wind industry.
Ireland’s location at the edge of the North Atlantic means we can benefit from one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in Europe.
Sustainably developing this is going to be vital in supporting our clean energy transition. It has the potential to make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of the Irish electricity system, as well as the potential for creating employment in small coastal communities which are unlikely to attract FDI.
Examples of MIIN companies in this area are Gavin and Doherty Geosolutions, who work globally for the offshore wind industry. In addition, Inland and Coastal Marina Systems fabricate and install pontoon systems for harbours and have been winning work in the UK installing mooring systems for crew transfer vessels.
Currently, the development of the offshore renewables sector in Ireland is high on the Government’s agenda. Much care is being put into developing the National Marine Planning Framework and the new consenting regime to ensure this is done fairly and sustainably.
To take advantage of this, companies in the sector should consider how they might pivot capability to meet the needs of the offshore wind industry. The offshore wind sector's needs will be a massive area of opportunity for Irish marine SMEs, both at home and in export markets.
Galway based Bluewise Marine has done precisely that, offering experience in areas such as marine and fisheries science, engineering, health and safety management, and community engagement. It also offers a range of technical and operational project management supports to assist companies in selecting and developing offshore renewable energy sites, coordinating marine surveys, engaging with the local supply chain, and managing stakeholder relationships.
In Killybegs, the marine engineering capability has been built up around the pelagic fishing industry but is now also looking at how companies could apply skillsets to the offshore wind sector. Marine fabrication companies like MMG Welding and Seaquest Systems, amongst others, can be part of this rapidly growing industry.
Companies that may be interested in entering this sector should consider joining MIIN, of which I am coordinator, and attend our events (currently online) to meet the best industry innovators.
The marine sector is very unforgiving of products or services which haven’t been properly ‘marinised’ and built to withstand everything the North Atlantic winter will throw at them. But we are fortunate to have a suite of testing facilities available for companies to trial and validate their products or services: the Lir National Ocean Test Facility at UCC and the Galway Bay Marine & Renewable Energy Test Site. We also have an excellent maritime training facility at the National Maritime College of Ireland.
In addition, the marine research ecosystem in this country is very active nationally and internationally. SFI has supported research centres like MaREI to help Ireland stay at the forefront of marine research.
So, any interested SMEs should log onto the Marine Ireland website to get insight into the vibrant marine ecosystem in Ireland.
Liam Curran is Senior Technologist with Enterprise Ireland and specialist in Marine Industry