An Abu Dhabi-based marine contracting company has drawn up plans to make the UAE the world's next ship recycling hub.
Khamis Al Rumaithy (Kare) is looking for a deepwater site in which to construct a facility initially capable of scrapping ships of up to 12,000 tonnes, with scope to expand the operation to include the largest tankers, bulk carriers and container ships.
According to Bob Hawke, Kare's managing director, establishing a ship recycling facility in the region is not only a major commercial opportunity for the UAE, but would cement its ecological credentials and secure the country a seat at the top table in any future global marine environment talks.
"This opportunity has developed out of the region's own demand for steel," said Mr Hawke. "There are smelters in the UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. They already consume a massive amount of scrap steel and are looking to expand their capacity. So it makes sense to have a supply of that scrap steel on your doorstep."
India and Bangladesh are the leading ship-scrapping nations. However, nearly all their work, mainly at Alang in the state of Gujarat in western India and Chittagong in Bangladesh, are carried out on beaches, and the pollution arising from the ship-breaking process has caused massive ecological damage.
The other major ship-breaking nations are Turkey and China, where the processes are carried out under strict environmental controls.
"Much of Europe's ships going for recycling are handled in Turkey. In the Far East, the ships tend to go to China," Mr Hawke added. "We are in between, a natural destination for all the tonnage coming out of the Middle East and Africa."
Any project in the UAE would have to be "fully compliant" with all the pending environmental regulations and guidelines being drawn up by the European Union and the United Nations International Maritime Organization, Mr Hawke said, and that would give it a major advantage over the existing Indian and Bangladeshi ship-breakers, who are already falling foul of environmental protection measures.
Crisil Ratings, a subsidiary of Standard & Poor's, says the size of the ship-scrapping market is about to become huge. It estimated last month that more than 55 million tonnes of the 180 million gross tonnage of global shipping capacity existing today is more than 20 years old and will be scrapped in the next two years.