The UAE will continue to promote its shipping sector as it recognising the critical role of the maritime sector in keeping trade flowing, its top official says.

Hessa Al Malek, advisor to the Minister for Maritime Transport Affairs, UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, emphasised that seafarers are undoubtedly the backbone of the maritime and shipping sector.

“We aim to increase the volume of containers handled by the nation to 50 million by 2032, with a growth rate of about 150 per cent. This is in addition to our ambition of increasing the number of ships and tankers carrying the UAE flag to 2,000 ships,” Al Malek said while addressing the 4th annual ‘Safety at Sea’ conference in Dubai.

The conference was held under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and Tristar Group’s Maritime Logistics division and participated by industry stakeholders, experts and executives in maritime and shipping sector.

The event highlighted issues related to the physical and mental well-being of seafarers as well as discussed pressing issues such as decarbonisation, energy efficiency, digitalisation, and the role of AI in driving the progress of the sector.

Al Malek said the UAE has led the way in taking action and launching ground-breaking initiatives.

“During the peak of the pandemic, we were the first country in the world to facilitate the safe exchange of more than 240,000 seafarers and their safe return to their home countries,” she said.

Referring to recent initiatives such as ‘Salmeen’, ‘sail safely’ and ‘supporting our blue army’, the advisor said these initiatives improve the quality of life of seafarers and enhance maritime safety to protect people’s lives.

“It is necessary that we continue our efforts towards ensuring a better life for our ‘blue army,’ who have and will continue to play a major role in the industry’s success,” Al Malek said.

Boasting a coastline of more than 1,650km, the UAE’s strategic location at the crossroads of global shipping routes makes the country a key trade and logistics hub. This is testified by the fact that the nation’s ports receive over 21,000 ships annually, and its ports handle more than 17 million containers each year.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which also participated in the event, expressed its confidence that the continuing initiative of Tristar will contribute greatly to safety at sea. It commended the efforts of the UAE, which was one of the first countries to classify seafarers as ‘priority workers’ and facilitated the safe exchange of more than 240,000 seafarers, who were assisted to return to their home countries safely, as well as provided with medical treatment and Covid-19 vaccines.

In his opening remarks, IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim said the IMO will continue to work tirelessly to deal with challenges related to maritime safety by means of a multi-pronged approach, including policy development, direct interventions by our Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT), and interagency and industry partnerships.

“We will continue to work with governments, industry stakeholders and other international organisations to enhance maritime safety and security,” Lim said.

Eugene Mayne, founder and CEO of Tristar Group, addresses the conference and seafarers and said the last three years have changed things around.

“The world has been taking notice of the many challenges you face, whether it is pandemic-related or otherwise. When the United Nations named you a ‘Key Worker’, it helped unlock many doors: recognition, safe repatriations, quicker crew changeovers, and travel assistance,” he said.

“Support and solidarity from the International Maritime Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, and numerous other authorities, in addition to their new protocols will open more doors for you,” he said.

Shipping today transports more than 80 per cent of global trade, providing a reliable low-cost means of transporting goods globally, facilitating trade and helping prosperity among nations and people. According to the IMO, the Covid-19 pandemic and other difficulties facing the global shipping industry have brought tremendous hardships for seafarers.

“Now is a great time for a reset at sea, with the cooperation and participation of states, shipowners, governments, and authorities. Today is the time we look beyond borders and boundaries, and our competitors, as we work towards achieving a greater common good for all our seafarers,” Mayne said.

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