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Full steam ahead – Transport Research in support of EU maritime policy

Research plays a vital role in boosting the competitiveness of the European maritime sector, but supporting an all-embracing maritime policy means facing some formidable challenges. A new brochure, ‘Marine related research and the future European Maritime Policy’, outlines the opportunities and breadth of research required.

Maritime shipping
© Peter Gutierrez

“The scope of maritime research is enormous,” says EU Project Officer Cristina Marolda, “so it requires the input of many experts in many fields. At the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General alone, several units deal with maritime issues. Other Commission services involved in the marine sector include ‘Transport and Energy’, ‘Fisheries’, and ‘Enterprise and Industry’ Directorates-General.”

Marine-related research includes work on maritime technologies and the marine environment. The two areas are closely linked. For example, space research providing improved satellite observation technologies has a direct impact on marine research involving ocean observation and fish population studies. It is also crucial to new systems for monitoring, guiding and optimising maritime transport.

“The positive impact of marine R&D is impressive,” says Marolda. “It supports competitiveness and job creation, helps us to understand climate change and biodiversity, builds human capacities and infrastructures, and supports policy implementation and standardisation.”

A huge domain

Cristina Marolda
Cristina Marolda

It is estimated that for every Euro invested in the EU’s maritime research programme seven Euros are generated in return. Under the Commission’s Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP6), more than €600 million of European funding has been provided to research projects in the maritime domain. This continues a trend towards increasing funding for maritime research over previous programmes that will continue into FP7 (2007-2013). The €25 million spent on international co-operation projects (INCO) in the marine sector under FP6 also reflects the international nature of ocean research.

The Union also supports research in other domains that can impact on maritime issues, including information and communication technologies (ICT) and materials science. Projects in these areas, due to their more generic nature, are not always included in official figures on maritime research.

The Commission’s new brochure, explains Marolda, illustrates the wide variety of marine-related research activities, including a complete list of relevant projects. A total of 250 projects where supported under FP6 spread over 11 thematic priority areas. “Our FP6 analysis showed that the transport theme contributed most to maritime research and received 33% of the funding,” she says, “The environment theme had a 25% share and fisheries was also a significant contributor.”

The cross-cutting nature of marine research will continue under FP7, with significant opportunities for marine-related research in six of the ten FP7 themes, namely ‘Food’, ‘Agriculture and Biotechnology’; ‘Energy’; ‘Environment’; ‘Transport’; ‘Security’; and ‘Space’.

Sustainable research

Marine research delivers environmental benefits in many ways. From a fuel consumption perspective, waterborne transport is the most efficient means of moving freight. Thus, increasing the amount of goods transported by water could provide significant environmental benefits in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable exploitation of resources is also a big topic. Within the deep ocean there are huge and unexplored energy resources. The challenge is to tap these resources without harming the environment. “We now know more about Mars than the deep ocean,” says Marolda. “There is a clear need for more RTD here.”

One new area that could be very interesting for marine research is ‘blue biotechnology’. “Blue biotechnology aims to exploit the unique natural properties of marine life in other areas,” says Marolda. “This area is currently unexploited and has a very high potential for a good economic return.” However, she says, the precautionary principle should be applied in the exploitation of ocean resources until an appropriate level of knowledge is attained.

Economic contribution

The Commission Communication on Maritime Policy, ‘Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union’, published in 2005, describes the essential contribution of research, and, in the EC overall strategic objectives for 2005-2009, marine research is seen as key for a successful maritime policy.

Looking forward, real investment in R&D is an essential pre-condition for a knowledge-driven society. In the maritime sector, the R&D challenge is to enable the responsible exploitation of the oceans and seas to support the European economy and employment, but only by pulling resources together can we have a strong impact in this direction.

“The positive experience of the WATER BORNETP European Technology Platform in the maritime transport sector should be continued,” urges Marolda, “but it should also serve as a model to build up a similar scheme in non-industrial marine science, to foster better cross-fertilisation between public and private funds and to pool Member States' efforts.

“Marine-related research is entirely complementary to European maritime policy. The most important thing is to take a more holistic view of the ocean.”

Marolda argues that a ‘shared vision’ for the Oceans is essential to overcome the fragmentation of approaches on the European maritime research scene. “It is essential to ensure that EU citizens experience the benefits of the oceans as a common heritage and recognise the importance of knowledge and public research for their sustainable and responsible exploitation,” she says.

“The ocean is a very complex system with complex interrelationships. There are many things we do not know about the marine environment and the effects of our activities. Marine resources will continue to be of great value to society, but we must ensure that we exploit them in the best and most responsible way.”