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Dutch engineer’s remote-control craft to monitor Gulf oil and gas

Fugro uncrewed surface vessel Fugro
A Fugro uncrewed surface vessel. The company is also opening a new base in the UAE
  • Fugro is launching uncrewed surface vessels in the region
  • The geo-data specialist is also opening a facility in Jebel Ali Free Zone
  • Its main markets are the UAE and Qatar and it is growing in Saudi

Dutch civil engineer Fugro is launching uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) to monitor oil and gas infrastructure in the waters off the UAE.

The 12-metre-long vessels are controlled from the shore without the need for any crew. Conventional craft that inspect offshore assets have six to seven crew members and operate on shift patterns; the USVs can work 24 hours a day safely.

Fugro, which describes itself as a geo-data specialist for marine and land assets, has been in the Middle East for 60 years but is now expanding in the region. This month it opened a new 28,000-square-metre facility in the Jebel Ali Free Zone as well as introducing the USVs.

Rudi Scheepers, Fugro’s UAE country director, said the expansion coincided with the spike in oil prices, but was not caused by it, and the company had recorded high double-figure growth in the Middle East over the past two years.

“It’s coincidental [the oil price]. As a global company, we are actually moving away slightly from oil and gas, but the Middle East being the Middle East, you can’t really run away from it,” he added.

Demand for Fugro’s services from renewable energy companies is growing, according to Scheepers, especially in hydroelectric power.

The company’s main markets are Qatar and the UAE, but he said Saudi Arabia was a big potential market.

“Saudi is a growing market for us, although we have a major operation present day. I think we’ve got about 19 facilities all over Saudi, predominantly more on the land side, but we are expanding into Aramco. 

“And obviously all the giga-projects. They are putting their money where their mouth is, and we’ve been very busy on the giga-projects.”

Suppliers such as Fugro are also set to benefit from an increase in investment in energy facilities, sparked by the war in Ukraine and calls to find alternatives to Russian supplies.

The Middle East and North Africa is forecast to invest $879 billion in energy projects from 2022 to 2026, an increase of 9 percent over the previous five years, according to the latest MENA Energy Investment Outlook from Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP).

The report found that global investment in oil and gas stood at $504 billion in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. The figure tumbled to $352 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $494 billion this year.

“The global industry has not yet recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ramy Al-Ashmawy, senior energy specialist at APICORP, told AGBI.

“The effect of the COVID crisis, with the impacts on mobility, supply chains and so on, have been exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.”

In the MENA, however, annual investment in oil and gas projects has surpassed pre-pandemic levels and is forecast to rise again this year.

In 2019, the region invested $78 billion in oil and gas, representing 15 percent of global investment. This fell to $72 billion in 2020 but recovered to $86 billion, 21 percent of global funding, in 2021. In 2022, investment is expected to rise to $90 billion.

“This shows that the MENA contribution to global energy investments in the oil and gas is actually defying the global trend,” Al-Ashmawy said.

“The region is bearing the burden of maintaining energy security, contrary to the narrative that is now prevailing in the media that OPEC+ is not doing enough to ease the energy crisis. That is not true.”