Regional Focus: Dubai continues to climb the ladder as a leading maritime hub

Dubai has well documented aspirations to become the pre-eminent maritime hub that links Asia, Africa, Europe and America. It has moulded it vision on Singapore, the world’s second busiest port, aiming for a variety of services and possibilities that the location provides.

To further this, aim the Government launched the Dubai Maritime Vision 2030 back in 2014. It is not just a plan for the maritime sector alone but is expected to increase the success of other sectors, such as logistics, tourism and luxury goods.

Five years into that plan Dubai has built a strong reputation within the maritime sector and at a global level, and is now ranked ninth in the 2019 edition of The Leading Maritime Capitals of The World 2019 report. The consensus from the report is that Dubai will continue to grow in importance and could be in the top five of the world’s most important maritime centres by 2024, albeit with intense competition by the European cities as well as Hong Kong.

The growth is self-evident and backed up by figures. According to the Dubai Maritime City Association (DMCA), Dubai currently hosts more than 5,500 maritime companies and 13,000 maritime activities, which in turn support more than 76,000 jobs. The sector contributes almost 7% of the Emirates’ gross domestic product, equivalent to $7.3bn, which the Government hopes to significantly increase this proportion by 2030.

The plan is to catapult Dubai into one of the world’s best maritime centres and that was the focus of the UAE Maritime Week event, held in September. For Nawfal Al Jourani, Director, Dubai Maritime Cluster Office (DMCO) the event was an important milestone for the sector. “In key maritime centres such as Oslo, Greece and Hamburg, they have global Maritime events. In the Middle East, there was nothing until we came up with the UAE Maritime Week.”

The Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) has been serving the interests of the maritime sector in Dubai for 12 years now. Its initial goal was to monitor, develop and promote maritime activities by providing a platform to develop regulations and guidelines to raise the bar on the maritime industry and boost its infrastructure, operations and logistics services while offering investment opportunities to boost Dubai’s competitiveness at the regional and international levels.

“Our role is to position the Dubai brand globally,” Mr Al Jourani added. “Awareness is everything. If you have the world’s best product, and people do not know about it, then it might as well be non-existent. This is exactly what we are doing in Dubai. We are trying to communicate to the maritime investors through many channels.

“The event represents a very important growth mechanism for our sector,” “The more you grow, the more relevant you become to whichever area of work you are involved in. That is why UAE Maritime Week is an important milestone for the sector here because world leaders in the maritime community came to Dubai. Particularly, in the event we call the UAE and Dubai Maritime Summit.”

One of the spotlights at the event was on the impact of global trade on shipping. An area of significant importance for the region is China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road that links the Asian nation to global markets. and account together for about 40% of the world’s gross domestic product.

The UAE is China’s second largest trading partner and the largest export market in the Middle East and North Africa. The countries enjoy strong economic relations, with the investment volume between the two sides amounting to about $6 billion between 2018 and 2019. Their partnership covers vital sectors, including marine operations, renewable energy, information technology, industry, and many others. On the other hand, China is the UAE’s first global trading partner in non-oil trade. The non-oil trade between the two countries exceeded $43 billion in 2018.

China’s initiative involves the establishment of a large network of land and sea links to connect Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. More than 60 countries will be part of this initiative, which is divided into two main categories, namely the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt and the ‘Maritime Silk Road.’ The latter is a sea route that will allow China to directly access Africa and Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

As for Dubai’s role in that Mr Al Jourani believes that with its reach and its innovative approach it is perfectly placed to compliment China’s strategy. “Whenever there is a global strategy that introduces new innovations, I am talking any field, not necessarily the maritime, those who adapt and reposition their product offering in line with that development, with that global direction, they will be part of that direction.” He explained: “This is exactly what the Silk Road is all about because Dubai now runs the world’s ports. I am not saying all of them, but we have a global network all over the globe from North America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. All of them, they will compliment big time the work of that well-known global strategy.

“We are adopting a very far-fetched future strategy in our logistical network, and that’s the hyper loop technologies, and that is how the future is going to be for us moving forward. For Dubai the Silk Road initiative, is about putting those new technological advancements in a position that can support the global direction.”

Despite their success there is little sign of Dubai resting on its laurels. Aside from the successful UAE Maritime Week event, DMCA has a host of other initiatives to support the maritime sector, one of the most interesting is the Innovation Quay (IQ). This is an incubator for a raft of disruptive technologies as well as being an accelerator of innovative start-ups. An interactive Maritime Innovation and Digitisation Day was also held to update the local maritime community on the current trends and innovations in maritime technology.

Amongst the technologies that DMCA has high hopes for are autonomous navigation and remote-controlled marine craft and, according to Mr Al Jourani, it will continue to cooperate with relevant partners and leading maritime digital system providers to develop Dubai as a leading hub for such activities.

Dubai will have another opportunity to showcase its maritime credentials when the World Expo is hosted by Dubai in 2020. The World Expos, that began in London back in 1851 are now held every five years, are a key meeting point for the global community to share innovations and make progress on issues of international importance such as the global economy, sustainable development and improved quality of life for the world’s population.

When the expo starts next October Dubai’s port operator DP World will have an innovation to showcase in the form of an innovative High Bay Storage (HBS) system. The design and rack structure of the system allows containers to be stored up to 11 stories high, delivering the capacity of a conventional terminal in a third of the surface area. It is also fully automated eliminating the need for reshuffling.

At present there are five terminals in Dubai, three at the flagship Jebel Ali Port and one each at Mina Rashid and Mina Al Hamriya, but that is planned to grow later this year when the fourth terminal at Jebel Ali rolls into action. Jebel Ali is already the 10th largest container port globally, handling more than 15 million TEU annually. The original plan was that the opening of Terminal 1 would lead to increased capacity, but now DP World will take the opportunity to refurbish Terminal 1.

Dubai, and indeed the whole of the Emirates, received a boost to its maritime influence when UAE was elected to the IMO Council as a Category B member, it immediately raised its profile within the maritime community. His Excellency Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development & Chairman at UAE Federal Transport Authority – Land and Maritime, believes that the first year of the UAE’s membership in the IMO Council has been a success with the UAE ranked 14th globally in the prestigious ‘Leading Maritime Nations in The World’ report released late last year.

He explained that the presence of many small, high-income economies among the top 10 countries in the field of maritime transport indicates the critical importance of the success of measures and policies of the maritime institutions such as regulating, controlling and managing the maritime assets efficiently.

“We are not a silent member like many other nations on the executive forums, we are very much active,” he said. “We are one of the countries that have a permanent resident professional in London based at the IMO and adding activities, efforts, communicating with the ports in case any thing would be required.”