Political tensions fuelling new ambitions
It is almost two years (June 2017) since a major trade and political boycott of Qatar was initiated by some of its regional neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
These countries accused Qatar of links to terrorism and the political tensions have not in any way decreased since.
It is interesting to note then how Qatar is reaching out to build international alliances in the world of shipping, particularly to boost its position as the largest exporter of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), claimed to be the cleanest fossil fuel and also considered as a fuel option for shipping in view of the forthcoming reductions required in sulphur emissions.
At the end of January, following meetings involving their respective Heads of Government, Qatar and South Korea announced that Qatar intends to order 60 LNG carriers from South Korea’s shipbuilding giants (Hyundai, Samsung and Daewoo). This will double its LNG fleet.
This announcement followed Qatar’s withdrawal – after almost 60 years of membership – from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (“OPEC”). OPEC’s lead member is Saudi Arabia, and although Qatar positioned the announcement as being linked to its focus on cleaner sources of energy and significantly increasing its gas production, it is very likely that the simmering political tensions in the region contributed to that decision.
As well as the flourishing relationship with South Korea on the shipbuilding front, Qatar has also reached out to China with aspirations to target investment opportunities in ports across the world. QTerminals – which operates the relatively new and expanding Hamad port in Qatar – has a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to assist its global aspirations.
It is perhaps not totally surprising that an energy-rich nation such as Qatar is targeting political alliances and investment overseas, but it is notable that such a small nation, despite a potentially crippling boycott with some of its neighbouring states, sees such opportunity in the world of shipping to build new diplomatic relationships.
In centuries gone by, maritime and trading power was always being sought by countries keen to grow their global influence and position in the world and even in the 21st century, that still seems to be the case.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR