The marine techno-revolution
A number of factors have contributed to the Middle East's rise as a superhub for the global maritime industry. In geographical terms, the region boasts an excellent location to capitalise on growing east-west trade lanes, while ambitious port developments have allowed shippers to handle a boom in cargo volumes.
Of course, such rapid development comes at a price, and pressure is mounting for the industry to boost its operational efficiencies and meet global standards of excellence.
Technology, as always, has played an essential role in making this happen, with an array of solutions being designed to streamline operations in the maritime industry, while reducing costly delays and producing fail-safe security measures. The market for such technology is very lucrative and implementation rates are constantly increasing throughout the region - something we have covered on several occasions in Sea Freight Middle East.
APM Terminals, for instance, partnered with Moormaster to deliver a pioneering approach to berth productivity, safety and costs. The Moormaster system is a vacuum-based approach to vessel mooring, used in place of mooring lines. According to APM, the benefits of that system include faster berthing and vessel departure, plus cost savings and the added bonuses of 'eco-value' and improved safety.
The increasingly impressive Port Salalah facility, in Oman, has been the first to adopt the system, which APM Terminals proudly claims is "redefining the industry".
While technology will always have an influence on redefining shipping, the 'out with the old and in with the new' view is not always regarded favourably.
The increasing automation of jobs has already led to smaller crews on ships, and one could be excused for wondering whether shipping's future will leave ordinary sailors behind. At last year's IDEX event in Abu Dhabi, the AAI Corporation and Marine Robotic Vessels International (MRV) unveiled its Interceptor Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) for the first time to the public.
Despite its rather ominous name, this modular and adaptable unmanned vessel has in fact been specifically designed for security and public service applications, including anti-piracy patrol, harbour security and oil rig surveillance. Through its claim to be affordable for most players, the Interceptor could well attract the attention of those big shipowners who ply the trade routes through the dangerous waters off Somalia or Indonesia, where the threat of piracy is currently resurging in a big way.
So technology clearly seems to tick all the boxes for the improvement of safety, security and efficiency in the shipping industry. It may well be that as the sector becomes more technology-dependent, it will lose some of the maritime charm of yesteryear. But, in an increasingly competitive world, such sacrifices are often the price for progress.