AREAS OF INNOVATION

Abu Dhabi 2019 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ali El Ali, General Manager of Zakher Marine International, on the company's evolution in the last few decades, the impact of technology on the sector, and the shift from oil to gas.

Ali El Ali
BIOGRAPHY
Ali El Ali is the General Manager at Zakher Marine International and QMS 2 Offshore Services, both part of the Zakher Group of multinational offshore oil services companies based in Abu Dhabi, comprising his family business. He grew up in Abu Dhabi and studied in Scotland and England. He is focusing on modernizing the Zakher Group during its phase of rapid international expansion and shipbuilding, and diversifying the group’s interests into real estate, tech, and other areas.

Can you walk us through the evolution of the company in the last few decades?

Zakher Marine international, established in Abu Dhabi in 1984, has more than 30 years' experience in the industry. Currently, we have three business units: a marine assets unit, which is subdivided into the mobile offshore units and offshore service vessels (OSVs); a sub-sea division; and an offshore manpower section. We are a marine service provider, though we are gearing toward becoming a turnkey solutions provider to our clients operating in the offshore—both oil and gas, marine construction, and renewables sectors. Originally, we started out on a small scale as a ship operator and manager. As our capital grew and profits increased, we entered the ship-owning field, purchasing second-hand vessels in the early 1990s. In 2001-2002, we decided to build our own vessels and were one of the first to bring in dynamic positioning vessels. A key moment in the evolution of Zakher Marine was the strategic decision made to enter the mobile offshore units market, which has enabled us to significantly scale up in terms of asset size and capability and gave us the opportunity to take a considerable amount of the local market value share within a short period of time.

How do you foresee the needs of clients evolving in the offshore business?

All three of our divisions will see their fair share of demand in the long term. The oil crisis in the last few years had a significant impact across the supply chain. We have seen demand for jack-up rigs remain strong in the last three years and brought in new assets that met client expectations and allowed us to remain technologically advanced and cutting edge for years to come. We took advantage of low shipbuilding costs and saw a gap in the market, pricing structure, and lack of competition. At the end of the day, this is a sector with high barriers to entry.

Where have technological advancements had the largest impact on offshore and marine services?

Unfortunately, our industry technology has had a longer lead time than other parts of the oil and gas supply chain. This is because of the high cost of innovation and the willingness of clients to explore these new innovations. Clients want to be sure that a technology will become the industry standard before they take on a substantial investment. I do not see this changing until the market is back to where there is a lack of great assets, favorable pricing for ship owners, and activity. All three have to be present to ensure that there is a focus on R&D and innovation. Globally, there is currently a fascination with big data that allows one to analyze many different aspects of operations, improving internal practices and comparing them with industry standards. Data analytics are also important for market intelligence and sourcing information to make better decisions.

How are marine services reacting to the shift from oil services to gas services?

For us, oil and gas are synonymous. There have been gas field developments in many places in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, and for us, there is no difference when it comes to the utilization of assets. We are equally suited to providing services for gas developments or oil developments. In terms of renewable energy, offshore wind farm developments are potential target markets. As jack-up owners and operators, we have done a great deal of research into the European and Asian market to have a foothold by the end of the year. Ever since we started owning jack-up assets, we were focused on ensuring that the assets could transfer across industries. Our jack-ups are extremely versatile in terms of geographic location as well as technical capabilities.