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2018:  JAN | FEB

Opportunities for Maritime Companies in Ireland
Dr. Edel O’Connor
Strategically situated on the western edge of Europe along the European Atlantic Seaboard, Ireland’s coastal and offshore waters contain a wealth of assets, including some of the largest and most valuable sea fisheries resources in Europe; one of the most valuable sources of offshore renewable energy in the world; and waters that offer a spectacular range of biodiversity. Ireland has a coastline of 7,500 km, and these waters are also the western gateway for shipping to Europe’s busiest seaports; are an ideal location for offshore aquaculture; contain significant oil and gas resource potential; and are the backdrop to fascinating coastlines that are driving the coastal tourism market.

However, in comparison to other maritime nations, Ireland’s marine sector has historically underperformed in terms of contribution to GDP. Recognizing the need for a step-change in our ability as a nation to harness our ocean wealth, the Irish government launched an Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland, the “Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth (HOOW) Strategy” in 2012. It is being driven from the highest levels of government and represents a unique and integrated approach for growing our blue economy. This has been a game-changer, with the sector now outperforming growth in the general Irish economy, according to the Socio Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU) at NUI Galway. While growth in the general economy was approximately 8 percent from 2012 to 2014, growth in the ocean economy was 19 percent for the same period. The ocean economy currently represents 0.9 percent of GDP, with recent figures suggesting that HOOW is moving steadily toward its target of 2.4 percent by 2030.

According to the 2017 report on Ireland’s ocean economy, established marine industries represented 93 percent of the total turnover in 2016. In these industries, the largest increase in activity from previous figures was evident in oil and gas, marine aquaculture and marine tourism and leisure, and these sectors present a wealth of opportunities for further growth in the not too distant future. It is also clear that the emerging marine sectors are excelling in growth and offer significant potential in marine technology products and services, maritime commerce, marine biotechnology and marine renewable energy.

Ireland already excels in ICT (information and communication technology), and a Digital Ocean initiative seeks to build opportunities to apply this in new ways as companies innovate into the future to drive growth in established and emerging sectors of the global marine economy. The marine technology sector had a 74 percent increase in turnover between 2014 and 2016. Our existing ICT cluster is driving innovation in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, which, when combined with our marine expertise and resources, creates the perfect storm for driving innovation in IoT for the sea. One key project focuses on smart ports, where we are working with world-class research centers of excellence and industry in the areas of data analytics, sensors, software and communication networks.

Other areas of opportunity for Ireland include technologies to drive the growth and advancement of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy. Ireland has some of the best wind and wave resources, and when combined with our test and development infrastructure and engineering expertise, it provides a compelling value proposition for companies with key interests in this domain. The most recent figures from SEMRU indicate an increase of 119 percent in turnover for this sector.

Additionally, Ireland is progressively strengthening its value proposition to become a global hub for international shipping services. Given the evolving global landscape in ship finance, Ireland is becoming an attractive destination for ship leasing, maritime commerce and ancillary services, and there are key initiatives underway to fully harness this opportunity.

Creating the correct environment and ecosystem for innovation is essential. Creating a multidisciplinary innovation ecosystem with stakeholders from research, industry, government and civil society is critical for creating the conditions for growth. Creating this ecosystem requires an integrated approach across government, and the most recent development in this regard is approval from the Interdepartmental Marine Coordination Group for the launch of a Marine Development Team established January 2017 to operationalize the business development and enterprise ambitions of the HOOW strategy. This team is based at the Irish Maritime Development Office. An annual Our Ocean Wealth Summit and maritime festival has also been put in place to bring national and international stakeholders from a number of diverse marine sectors together at the end of June each year. In 2017, this attracted more than 800 attendees to business events and more than 100,000 people to the SeaFest maritime festival in Galway, making it one of the largest maritime festivals in Europe.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that with a business-as-usual approach the global ocean economy will double by 2030. This is not surprising, given that the answer to many of the grand global challenges lies in the ocean. Scientific and technological advances will play a crucial role in the further development of ocean-based economic activities, while addressing ocean-related environmental challenges.

Ireland wants to support where we can in developing and building projects that support Irish companies in expanding their reach and assist international companies in accessing the world-leading technology expertise and innovation that is available in the Irish ecosystem.

Dr. Edel O’Connor is the business development manager for the Irish Maritime Development Office at the Marine Institute. She has led the strategic development of the national marine technology program and SmartOcean initiative to “marinize” Ireland’s strengths across ICT and engineering into new areas of the blue economy and led the development of international partnerships across research and industry.

2018:  JAN | FEB

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