Blue growth could represent sea change for EU economy

The maritime economy holds amazing potential for sustainable growth and could contribute to a European economic renaissance, writes Karmenu Vella.

By Karmenu Vella

20 May 2015

The first images that come to mind when thinking of a port are of industrial steel constructions, imposing cranes and the smell of iodine. However, a look at the bigger picture reveals a complex network of dynamic hubs brimming with potential. The focus of this year's European maritime day is on ports and their potential as centres for sustainable investment. 

Over the years, European maritime day has been a forum for discussion on new ideas, opportunities and challenges. Experts from across all sectors have contributed with their knowhow and presented their views on the future of the maritime sector. This year, I will be looking at how the maritime economy can be a part of Europe's economic renaissance.

New technologies are prompting new discussions and prospects. Marine resources have become ever more accessible and thanks to underwater robotics we are now able to map these resources, as well as the sea floor. Robotics can also help us think beyond traditional tools for growth from the sea, to explore new ways of addressing the needs of a globalised world, be it through generating energy from waves, tourism or even biotechnology.


On the energy front, a revolution is already taking place. A third of global oil production is now offshore and over 30 per cent of this is pumped from below deep water - 15 years ago this amount was zero. 

Renewable energy is also moving offshore. Last year, 13 per cent of new wind turbine capacity was installed offshore, but wind is not the only available resource. Work is going ahead in Swansea, Wales, to build a lagoon to make the most of the difference between high and low tides, which will meet 90 per cent of the city's domestic energy consumption. 

Engineers in nearly all the countries along Europe's Atlantic coast are testing devices that can extract power from waves. Cables are being laid on the seafloor to bring electricity ashore.

This new aspect to the maritime economy is creating jobs from scratch. For example, since 2008, employment in offshore wind has grown by an astonishing 30 per cent a year.

These completely new jobs come on top of the pre-existing 5.4 million jobs in the maritime sector. In the coastal tourism sector, for example, the figures are also impressive –-it employs over three million people. Maritime tourism generates a gross added value of €183bn, which is over a third of the maritime economy. 

The tourism industry has held up well during the crisis, and offers opportunities for that crucial first job for young people. Nearly 20 per cent of the workforce is under the age of 25 and more than half of it is female. However, we also need to consider and explore new ground.

Tourism itself is changing and new innovative business models are emerging. The annual trip to the seaside is being replaced by shorter, more frequent, more specialised trips.

Surfing schools and yachting marinas are thriving, as is social entrepreneurship. Ports are the alpha and omega for the cruise industry, which is worth more than €15.5bn and employs around 330,000 people. Its turnover has grown by three per cent each year since 2008, and with the right form of investment, it could grow even bigger.

This is why the theme of this year's maritime day is 'growth, ports and coasts as hubs for sustainable investment'.

Ports could invest in facilities to disembark cruise ships and transport tourists to local centres of cultural interest or natural beauty. Ports that invest in facilities to load and unload 80-metre turbine blades will benefit, not only from the transport of these components, but also from the manufacturing and service industries that develop around these hubs.

Maritime clusters and synergies can maximise this leverage in order to make Europe even more competitive internationally.

The opportunities are endless, and European maritime day is a celebration of this.


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