Q&A with Omar Jassim Bin Kalban, MD & CEO of E-marine

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Q. Can you give us a brief about your organization and its activities?

E-marine is a turnkey provider for submarine cable installation and maintenance, and has been in existence since 1984, providing the much-needed infrastructure of laying and maintaining submarine cables, which are the backbone of the telecommunications systems. E-marine has installed several cable systems in the region and maintains nearly 100,000km of submarine cables across the Middle East and Africa subcontinents. E-marine established the first subsea cable ship in the Middle East region, and landed the first communication cables in the UAE for better communication with neighbouring countries, including Qatar and Bahrain.

E-marine now has a fleet of four fully-equipped cable ships and a newly acquired multi-purpose vessel, with state-of-the-art facilities. The company’s vessels are all equipped with the latest survey, cable laying and navigation equipment, and cable management systems. E-marine provides a complete range of subsea telecommunication and offshore energy cables for the telecoms, and oil and gas industries.

Q. What have been E-Marine’s key highlights and developments in the Middle East over the past year?

2016 was a good year for us. We bagged several installation projects via the:

- SEA-ME-WE-5 project connecting UAE, Oman and Pakistan;

- NASCOM (Maldives) project connecting six islands of Maldives;

- AVASSA (Comoros) project; and

- Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) project.

These project wins are highly significant for E-marine, demonstrating our ongoing commercial success. The installations project are allied with major players like Alcatel Submarine Networks and Huawei Marine Networks, illustrating our calibre in the global submarine cable industry. Through undertaking these projects we enabled a higher level of interconnectivity among countries in the region through an extensive network of submarine cables. This comes as a part of our commitment to enhance the UAE’s position and international competitiveness in the communications and technology sector. The projects also deliver world-class infrastructure that will help in attracting international companies looking to establish their business in the UAE. Furthermore, customers reposed their faith in us by renewing their maintenance contracts. Other than the maintenance contracts of the sections that we laid like NASCOM, Avassa and SEA-ME-WE-5, we have also bagged new maintenance contracts for the Bay of Bengal Gateway.

Q. What are the major trends in the submarine fibre/data market and how is E-marine planning to capitalise on those?

An interesting fact that we would like to share is that nearly 98% of all communications needs are through submarine cables and the remaining 2% via satellites. We are one of the few service providers globally that enable lay and maintain this critical infrastructures.

On the demand side, countries in the region, like the UAE, guided by progressive Government policy, are becoming more connected. Meanwhile, the world is demanding faster connectivity speeds as data volumes surge. Our region is a key gateway where East meets West and is so critical to the telecommunications connectivity globally. The projects that we have undertaken show that E-marine is providing the enabling subsea infrastructure growth, for improved global connectivity.

A study by Laureen Cook, who is the principal TMT advisor, International Finance Corporation Telecoms, Media & Technology Venture Capital Group reveals that the subsea fibre has recently gained renewed focused within the TMT Investment sector of IFC (the private investment arm of the World Bank) as it has a broad economic impact on developing economies. It further states that subsea provides increased international capacity, which usually equates to a drop in wholesale pricing, and open access to service providers. As volume and competition increases, prices fall to the enterprise and to the end consumer. This will stimulate the development of new business models regarding health, education, and commerce. Additionally, increased subscriber rates due to access to low cost, high speed internet access is one of the key catalysts to economic development. Interestingly, the World Bank estimates that a 10% increase in broadband internet access, contributes to an increase of 1.38% in GDP.

There is a lot of scope for further connectivity, especially in regions like East Africa where their internet users are only around 10% of the total population. More data and internet means more submarine cables. Since we are the engine that helps facilitate this key infrastructure, we hope to be a part of this growth movement and are well-prepared to cater to this enhanced demand with our world-class infrastructure and facilities.

Q. What are your strategic priorities in 2017 and what announcements can we expect from E-marine in the region this year?

We take this opportunity and feel glad to inform you that to broaden the spectrum of our services, we have recently acquired a multi-purpose vessel, Athba. This 87m long vessel is a DPS- 2, FIFI 1, diesel electric platform supply vessel/cable ship and has a capacity to accommodate 52 people in comfort. It has a huge deck space of 1000m2 and is capable of operating in shallow waters as well. This vessel will further complement our existing fleet of four cable ships, especially to cater to the demand of connectivity to the oil & gas platforms. We foresee the O&G sector reviving by the latter part of this year and Athba would prove to be a key asset in our penetration in this business segment. 

Apart from this, we have plans to increase our capabilities, to expand our customer base and cater to our clients more efficiently. We will continue to invest in technology and modernisation of our infrastructure, at par with the best in world.

Q. What do you hope to achieve out of your attendance at the Capacity Middle East event?

Well, as explained, we are a vehicle which provides the key infrastructure to enhanced telecom capacities. By being a part of this event, we would like to enthuse confidence in our clients and different telecom companies, so that they may confidently pursue their expansion plans in the region, and that we are there to help them pursue their business interests very effectively, providing the requisite means and infrastructure to lay the foundation of their business, the submarine fibre-optic cable.