Establishing a global maritime hub is no mean feat. This year the UAE again demonstrated its trading prowess, ranking 8th out of 189 countries for “trading across borders” in the World Bank Group’s annual Doing Business report. The report assesses the costs and procedures involved in importing and exporting a standardized shipment of goods, providing a useful insight into the comparative state of a nation’s shipping sector. Whilst impressive gains have been made, this is no time to rest on such laurels. On its trajectory to the top this maritime hub needs to face its challenges and play to its strengths.

The modern maritime sector has of course always held a special spot in the UAE story. Almost four decades ago the leadership, eager to move away from oil revenue dependence, looked to shipping. The completion of the ambitious Jebel Ali Port marked the coming of a new era of commercial prosperity for the young country. Incidentally, the Port ultimately became the flagship of an essential UAE business commodity, the free zone. Maritime trade and broader economic success continue to enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

Challenges Facing the Maritime Sector

“The customer is king!” So goes the business mantra, and in a maritime context it is the shipowner who carries this honourable title. Ensuring the best environment for owners is key to progress. Owners routinely echo the same concerns when considering the UAE. Local financial services, for instance, struggle to satisfy this bespoke clientele. Singapore, ranked 1st in the mentioned World Bank Group report, capitalized admirably on this need, alleviating owners’ concerns and boosting business.

Calls for a maritime court persist. As is commonplace in many jurisdictions, such a court stands to ideally offer quick resolutions to disputes by a bench versed in the workings of maritime law. Continued momentum for the establishment of the Emirates Maritime Arbitration Centre is encouraging.
The maritime sector faces a plethora of further challenges. For instance; opening the UAE Flag Registry and welcoming foreign shipowners. Or, updating the UAE Maritime Code of 1981, bringing it in line with international best practices. This legal development would be aided by ratification of a host of international maritime conventions. Other challenges include; ensuring a centralized approach in the UAE to maritime affairs andencouraging a cooperativeattitude between different ancillary industries to the maritime sector.

Facing the Challenges

Establishing the UAE as the foremost global maritime hub will require a collaborative effort from all relevant players, willing to identify the challenges and face them head-on. Considering Dubai, last month His Excellency Sultan Ahmad Bin Sulayem, Chairman of the Dubai Maritime City Authority, established the Dubai Maritime Advisory Council (“DMAC”) comprising of a remarkable array of industry leaders and stakeholders. The DMAC is mandated to identify and consider challenges facing the maritime sector in Dubai, with a view to promoting its development.The initiative exemplifies the open and encouraging philosophy of the leadership, a philosophy that encourages a platform for the maritime sector to ultimately reach unprecedented heights.

Ravi P. Jawani

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