Blog: London - the world’s most resilient maritime centre?

Singapore has retained its title as the world’s top maritime centre in Menon Economics’ Leading Maritime Capitals of the World report for 2017.

Much of the press coverage has focused on this fact, largely overlooking the fact that London has risen from sixth place overall in 2015 to fifth place this year – despite the uncertainty of Brexit. It’s fair to say that none of the other maritime cities in the top five – Singapore, Hamburg, Oslo and Shanghai – have had to deal with such a massive economic spanner being thrown in their works. And still London has strengthened its global standing.

London is still putting up a fight against Hamburg, Oslo and Rotterdam to be the leading maritime capital of Europe, although each is strong in its own area. London holds the global top spot in finance and law, and Oslo in maritime technology. Rotterdam was Europe’s highest-ranked city for ports and logistics, falling behind Singapore and Shanghai globally. Oslo was named the world’s second most attractive and competitive maritime city, behind Singapore (naturally).

Despite London’s progress, it’s a shame that the Menon study covers cities rather than nations – not all of the UK’s shipping industry is based within its capital. Many are headquartered in regional maritime clusters such as Liverpool and Aberdeen. Indeed, Lloyd’s Register recently established its global technology centre in Southampton. 

Mersey Maritime, the cluster at Liverpool, was established in 2003 to represent the interests of Merseyside’s maritime sector, in partnership with local authorities and academia. Since then, the cluster has gone from strength to strength, with investments running to millions of pounds, which has helped the region boost apprenticeships, job creation and economic growth. Maritime UK, the promotional body for the UK maritime sector, is now working to take this successful model nationwide, starting with Hull. 

It is hoped that these new regional clusters will help build up the country’s maritime industry outside of London and help rebalance the UK’s economy – particularly in areas like Hull that have traditionally been port cities but in which the maritime industry has been weakened in recent years. 

A National Maritime Research Centre has even been proposed, in which research produced in the UK can be pooled and accessed by peers – this would also help coordinate approaches to things like technological change. 

In other words, the UK maritime sector is already taking steps to keep up with new developments, but not all of the initiatives are London-centric. Work is being done, plans are being laid and government is being lobbied for change. Exiting the European Union has caused uncertainty over Britain’s future, but Menon’s study shows that London has remained resilient and is as competitive as ever, perhaps more so. It’s just a shame that not all of the UK’s maritime offer can be taken into account.

In our efforts to build up London as a global maritime city – and finally clinch that top spot within Europe – perhaps we can take our cues from Menon’s assessments of cities’ “attractiveness and competitiveness”. 

“The cities that are regarded as the most attractive locations for maritime companies – Singapore, London, Hamburg and Oslo – all score high on R&D [research and development], education and digital competence,” Menon said in its report. The attracting factors, “the glue that makes companies stay”, were this year extended to include access to talent and proximity to advanced maritime R&D. London has this covered but is bolstered by ongoing work and expanding businesses around the rest of the UK. Nevertheless, the way the capital has risen in global prominence is admirable, considering the shocks of the past 12 months. 

“We welcome the fact that London has again been voted the world’s number-one city for maritime finance and law. Its expertise in maritime business services is unparalleled,” says Ben Murray, manager of Maritime UK. 

“It’s testament to London’s strength that despite unforeseen geopolitical events, the world’s financial capital has once again climbed into Menon’s top five maritime cities. London’s strengths are complimented by the unique and individual strengths of dynamic maritime clusters in Southampton, Aberdeen and Liverpool, which together mean that the UK offers the complete maritime package.”

Published online by UK Chamber of Shipping