Speech by Petra Wilkinson

Keynote Speech by Petra Wilkinson at "Innovation with Maritime, Innovation UK"


“Good morning, and welcome to today’s event, where we will demonstrate some of the most exciting and innovative technological breakthroughs in the UK maritime sector. I would like to extend my thanks to MarRI-UK for inviting me to speak today. Their vital work has provided a collaborative vehicle for maritime innovation, supporting UK industry and academia to work together to solve difficult technological challenges.

Invention and innovation are areas where, historically, this country has excelled. From the steam engine, to the marine chronometer, to the hovercraft, the UK has always been a destination for breakthrough technology. This rich history will continue. In the maritime sector we are working with industry partners to help deliver the commitments of the Government’s national strategy, Maritime 2050. Of course, I am sure that those attending today are aware of this strategy. I assure you that the Government is committed to supporting the sector so that the UK can continue to lead the way in innovation and make maritime a greener, safer, and more efficient place to work.

Days like today are strong evidence of this. The projects that you’ll see demonstrated today were supported through a £2.3million grant provided by the Department of Transport to help deliver 21 cutting-edge projects across a range of areas, including decarbonisation, autonomy and digitisation.

In 2020, as we all know, the COVID pandemic changed everything. It is fair to say that we have endured, and overcome, some challenging times. That is why the Department has recently published a Maritime Recovery Route Map, detailing how, in light of the tough challenges this country still faces, we can turn the tide and set sail towards the accomplishments of Maritime 2050. The route map sets out two flagship projects, facilitated by MarRI-UK, that the Department has provided with £2.5million of funding. It is apt that these ‘Smart Maritime Land Operation’ projects focus not just on future vessels, but on their integration with ports and energy infrastructure. The route map also sets out our ambition for Innovation Hubs. The Port of Tyne, the first Innovation Hub, is a model example of how we can tackle maritime challenges and promote local growth. It has shown front and centre how knowledge sharing and positive working relationships across industry can drive innovation, and we will see more of these Hubs in the future. And with this relentless drive for innovation moving at a rate of knots… with new maritime technologies being developed at significant speed… it is the role of Government to regulate in line with the pace of industry to remove unnecessary barriers to innovation. It is therefore our intention to legislate for autonomous and remotely operated vessels when parliamentary time allows, and I’d like to personally thank those who responded to the consultation and for your valuable contributions. A Government response will be published later this year.

Decarbonising the maritime sector is a major challenge, but one that UK innovation can answer. The innovation on display today is crucial to two challenges that will shape the UK’s economic future: the green industrial revolution and autonomous transition. We recognise that alongside regulation, government funding is needed if we are to capture these markets. That is why, in March of this year, we announced £206m for a UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions – or UK SHORE – a research and development programme within DfT focused on decarbonising the maritime sector. UK SHORE is delivering a suite of interventions between March 2022 and 2025 aimed at transforming the UK into a global leader in the design, manufacture and operation of clean maritime technology.

A flagship UK SHORE scheme is the multi-year Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition, which provides research and development match-funding to projects aimed at bringing pre-commercial technologies closer to market readiness. On 29 September, the Secretary of State announced the launch of the third round of the competition (CMDC3), building on previous successful rounds and allocating up to £60m for technology and system demonstrations in clean maritime solutions between April 2023 and March 2025. This is the largest ever Government R&D investment in the UK commercial maritime sector, and we encourage innovators to apply before the application window closes on 9 November.

On the same day, the Secretary of State also announced the 31 winners of our £12m second round, focused on feasibility studies and pre-deployment trials, which will run between January and August 2023. The multi-year Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition is just one intervention in our wider UK SHORE programme. We are also developing plans for a Centre for Smart Shipping, which will provide a coordinating function in emerging technologies – and we welcome any views you may on this. It will build on the UK’s strength in smart shipping systems and enable Innovation Hubs to support regional clusters of expertise across the UK.

To conclude, there is a bold commitment from Government to support innovation and technology development in this space, and such efforts will make certain that the UK is a leading maritime nation. As we embark upon the fourth maritime industrial revolution, we, the Department for Transport, will continue to work with those of you here today, as well as the wider industry, to enable UK maritime to keep pushing against the boundaries of what we think is possible… and proudly enhance our rich history of innovation. Thank you.”