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Fichte calls for UAE Federal Transport Authority to lead Hub Dubai revolution

Fichte calls for UAE Federal Transport Authority to lead Hub Dubai revolution
Dubai-based German lawyer Jasamin Fichte is calling on the UAE’s Federal Transport Authority (FTA) to galvanise shipping oversight in the ambitious emirate to allow it to make good on its status as a growing maritime hub and challenge Singapore.

Fichte, managing partner of Fichte & Co, a leading regional maritime law firm set up in 2005, said that although the outside world considered Dubai a shipping hub, and many companies, including international law firms, were moving here, several jigsaw pieces were missing, including a register, a flag, an updated maritime law and a maritime court.

“We need the FTA to take the lead. Dubai cannot. Maritime is federal. Federal is the FTA. We need the FTA to say ‘this is what we are doing now’ and actually get started. Dubai cannot establish an international register. Only [the capital] Abu Dhabi can.”

The government did not realise how much money there was in shipping, she said. “It sees shipping as a by-product of oil. If they saw shipping as an independent industry, it could create massive revenue.

“We have worked on a [UAE] international flag for 10 years. It seems now again there is movement. We need foreign companies to be able to move their tonnage to the UAE.

“I find UAE ship-owners are very loyal to the country. If we had a UAE flag, many local shipowners would [adopt] it, not because it's financially beneficial, but because they support it. [UAE classification society] Tasneef will be successful. The support is there.”

She said the right licencing regime was needed to attract ship-owners. Problems in Greece and Europe meant that now was the perfect time.

“We need an update of maritime law, a maritime court and a quasi-open register. How can you be a maritime nation, when only 0.06% of global tonnage is registered under the UAE flag? Approximately 40% of global tonnage is owned in the Middle East. Of that, less than1% is registered here.”

She said the UAE needed to start flying the flag. “Look at Emirates Airline. Ten years ago, people knew of Dubai, but hardly anyone had heard of Emirates. Now, everybody knows the flag, because it is on its aircraft at airports all over the world. We are saying the same should apply to ships.”

She welcomed talk of Emirates Maritime Arbitration Centre, but was unsure how it would be set up.

A lack of ship finance also hampered growth. In another nod to Singapore, she said that the main reason for its success as a maritime hub was the financial incentives given to ship-owners.

Banks with shipping experience were the key. “A Greek shipowner said to me: ‘If you had just two or three banks here with a shipping desk—not ship finance, just someone who understood my daily business— then 200 Greek shipowners would move over here.’”

She called on the UAE Central Bank to set up a directorate to support the industry. “Imagine a ship-owner moves here to manage 200 vessels. He goes to the bank to open 200 bank accounts. That would take him five months—and I don't know how many explanations.”

But she said that a system that was still very young, with mortgages for immoveable property in existence for just 10 years, did not show any appetite for moveable assets like ships.

“How many new ship-owners have opened up in UAE in the last 13 years? I come up with two. How many of my clients in the past 10 years have moved their head office from Dubai to Singapore? Fifty? Seventy? I think many, many more. In Singapore you can get finance. Here you can’t."