(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) The UAE is Asia's most connected country in the maritime world, thanks to its strategic location building connections, adoption of new technology, safety and sustainability and state-of-the-art infrastructure to handle all kinds of ships at its key ports.
According to the Review of Maritime Transport 2018 report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the UAE is ranked 25th in terms of ownership of world fleet by dead-weight tonnage in 2015 with 200 vessels of national flag and 695 vessels of foreign or international flag.
The UAE is also ranked 19th among the top 20 countries in terms of global container-carrying world fleet in 2018. It also ranked Dubai ninth among 20 leading global container ports in 2017.
Amer Ali, executive director of the Dubai Maritime City Authority, said in terms of sea routes, the Gulf is on one of the world's busiest and close to key lanes between the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
"Capitalising on its position between Africa, Europe and Asia, Dubai plays a vital role in intercontinental maritime trade, with infrastructure that makes it a natural hub for regional distribution. On intercontinental trade, Dubai benefits from a diversified market, with fall-offs in traffic in one region partly compensated for by more robust markets elsewhere," Ali said.
"We have brought about a radical change in the local maritime sector through an extensive range of industry initiatives and regulations which support the industry's smart transformation," he added.
The UAE launched the Innovation Quay, which encourages leading manufacturers and research institutions to conduct field studies and create new experiences using the latest innovative technologies such as drones, 3D technology, and smart and self-driving ships, among others.
Dubai was recently named one of the top five in the International Shipping Centre Development Index and one of the world's five most competitive and attractive maritime clusters.
In Dubai, the maritime industry has made immense economic contributions. Hosting over 5,500 and rising companies performing over 13,000 marine-based activities, the local industry went up by 25 per cent from 2011 to 2015 and now accounts for 7 per cent of the emirate's gross domestic product. Moreover, over 76,000 maritime jobs now support Dubai's steadily-growing economy. This confirms Dubai's continuing success in becoming one of the most globally competitive, distinguished and comprehensive maritime centres in the world.
The sector's contribution to Dubai's GDP is at Dh26.9 billion or 7 per cent of the total.
Eng Ali Al Suwaidi, general manager of Dubai Maritime City, said the UAE is considered regional hub for having the world's top shipowners and services companies.
"The local maritime sector has tremendous potential, and we continue to strive and focus on developing the growth opportunities, specifically within the shipping sector. The UAE government has also shown a huge support to both local and private sectors in maritime industry through facilitating their business and encouraging more international investment. We can foresee significant opportunities in the marine segment with development potential, in the areas of maritime services, construction, maintenance and berthing facilities. With increased business connectivity overall, there is a lot of potential for future initiatives to thrive," Al Suwaidi said.
Khamis Buamim, group CEO and managing director of Gulf Navigation Holding, said the UAE's ports occupy an ideal and strategic location, making them rank higher as the preferred and most important routes for maritime trade. Ports in Dubai continue to provide integrated services that strengthen the national economy as a whole.
"With the changes in the industry overall, in addition to rising demands, new companies within the sector must diversify into all aspects of logistics and leisure, open up new employment opportunities and promote innovative initiatives to promote a more sustainable economy. This will further enable shipping stakeholders to tackle the current challenges we face and grasp more opportunities for future advancement; enabling the marine sector to lead globally," Buamim said.
Eng Mohammed Zaitoun, president and CEO of Zaitoun Green Shipping, stated that the maritime industry is fast becoming increasingly competitive.
"We foresee the sector moving towards a future that is well connected, fostering more opportunities for innovation, collaboration and knowledge sharing. Thus, it is vital that efficiency of the vessels is maintained and enhanced. Optimizing operations of current vessels by lowering carbon emissions and quickly adapting to changing demands through digitisation and technological solutions; is the fastest way to drive future growth," he said.
Zaitoun stressed that the importance of any port for any ship owner will be depending on the availability of compliance fuel to 2020 sulfur rules as well attractive price, therefore the ports has to build integration link between their operational process and compliance fuel.
Suha Obaid, deputy CEO at Folk Shipping, said in Dubai alone, there are more than 5,500 firms operating within the maritime sector, contributing 7 per cent to the GDP and providing an estimated 75,000 domestics jobs - signifying its importance to Dubai's economy.
To remain progressive, he said, the shipping industry currently requires adherence to the changing laws and regulations, and needs more banks as investors to look into it seriously.
"We are in the age of rapid digitisation, which can pose several challenges to the traditional means of doing businesses and can disrupt current ship operating procedures. In order to flourish, the sector needs to adapt readily to the new innovative technologies being implemented globally. Reliance on technology will not only increase connectivity but will also serve to maximize the vessels' operating potential, optimize costs and enabling ship owners to make more informed decisions to remain competitive in an increasingly challenging and commoditised marketplace," Obaid said.