On supporting diversification through marine construction
What role do you see for NMDC and the wider dredging industry in supporting Abu Dhabi’s economic development?
YASSER NASR ZAGHLOUL: Dredging plays a central role in the vast majority of avenues for growth in Abu Dhabi’s economy. NMDC has been able to position itself as a key partner in Abu Dhabi’s efforts to grow the local economy. For example, NMDC’s recently signed strategic partnership with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) on the $1.36bn Hail and Ghasha development project, situated in deepwater offshore Abu Dhabi, is of great importance for the emirate as it will create additional value from local resources. Similarly, as the government continues diversifying its economy, there are opportunities to expand in sectors such as tourism and trade. In this sense, NMDC is a key partner of Abu Dhabi Ports and provides marine construction solutions for a number of the company’s projects, including the expansion of Khalifa Port.
Since 2009 we have taken advantage of opportunities to diversify away from dredging towards engineering services for marine development. Despite limited growth in international marine development, there are still a number of active markets, such as Abu Dhabi. This diversification is key to continued expansion, especially as marine development moves from oil and gas.
How do international partnerships help boost the competitiveness of local firms in international markets?
ZAGHLOUL: There are two important requirements to being competitive in this industry: market exposure and technological know-how. International partnerships are essential for both of these. For example, in Egypt our decision to form the Egyptian Emirati Marine Dredging Company has enabled us to boost market exposure, as well as provide our Egyptian partners with the technical expertise that we have developed over years of operating as a globally respected engineering, procurement and construction marine contractor.
Conversely, international partnerships can provide us with much-needed technological expertise. As we look toward diversifying our portfolio at home, forming partnerships with established international entities with expertise in non-dredging marine engineering can help us. In return, companies based here are able to offer international firms exposure to Abu Dhabi’s emergent marine market.
What strategies are being implemented to ensure the future availability of local human capital and capabilities? What more can be done to further attract young talent into the field?
ZAGHLOUL: Our industry can be surprisingly labour intensive, with projects requiring as many as 3500 personnel. This makes attracting and training new talent a central focus. On the local level our employment efforts are supported by partnerships with a number of universities including Zayed University to promote marine engineering as a career opportunity for graduates. Local companies provide high in-country value for projects when they are able to employ a large number of Emiratis.
When looking for new employees the focus is not on experience, which is hard to come by given how niche the sector is. A lack of expertise is not an issue given our ability to offer all employees in-house training. Our main focus is therefore on attracting committed individuals who are willing to work in what is a labour-intensive industry.
Which actions are being taken to mitigate the environmental impact of dredging and to protect the Gulf’s marine ecosystem?
ZAGHLOUL: Dredging is central to the economic development of Abu Dhabi, but this does not mean we can ignore our environmental impact. This is why identifying and mitigating the effect of our work on the world around us must be a central part of any project.
For example, as part of the 2008-11 Massafah Channel project, NMDC relocated dredged material to Habitat Island to replenish the coral beds there and provide a new home for the wildlife displaced as a result of the project. Throughout our work on the Ghasha oil field – which is located within the UNESCO-protected Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve – we have implemented an environmental policy that was approved by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which manages the field, and the Environmental Agency to ensure minimal disruption to the ecosystem of the area.