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British marine tech venture eyes government cash pot

National maritime research and innovation set up to compete with maritime hubs in Scandinavia and the Far East. Glasgow centre to target innovation in seabed mapping, autonomous shipping and the environment

Partners to tap Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which has funnelled £1.7bn into high-tech British industry to date, including ‘Boaty McBoatface’ polar research vessel

EIGHT British maritime companies have joined forces to pitch for government funding into high-tech marine development, including seabed mapping, autonomous shipping and the environment.

The new national initiative for maritime research and innovation, or MarRI-UK, hopes to tap into fresh funds being allocated under the government’s increased investment in research and innovation, announced in August by science minister Sam Gyimah.

The government’s stated ambition is for public and private sector investment in research and development to reach 2.4% of gross domestic product by 2027.

Recent examples of government-funded innovative programmes include developing battery technologies and creating a new state of the art polar research ship, the Sir David Attenborough, more popularly known as Boaty McBoatface.

A total of £1.7bn has been committed to the first two waves of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, part of that research and development push, which is designed to drive UK businesses to become world leaders in technology.

Babcock, BAE, BMT, Cammell Laird, Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce, and Shell will work alongside a number of British universities to drive high-tech marine industry development in the UK.

Created as a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, MarRI-UK’s maritime innovation centre will be based in Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde, with collaboration from Newcastle University, the University of Southampton, University College London and the Society of Maritime Industries.

Babcock’s marine sector chief executive, John Howie, who is chair of MarRI-UK, said: “The sector coming together and collaborating on innovation, research and development is crucial to the future success of our marine industry in the UK.” 

Maritime UK director Ben Murray said that while there were “lots of pots of money around”, including from Europe, the British maritime industry needed to take a more collaborative approach to make the case against other industries when bidding for government funding.

“We’ve missed out [on government funding] in the past and then complained that we’ve missed out, due to a lack of collaboration,” he told Lloyd’s List.

Wave three of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund closed to expressions of interest in May. An announcement of selected challenges will be made in November, according to Innovate UK.

MarRI-UK membership is designed across three tier levels, with membership fees providing leveraged access to research and innovation.

For £500,000 per year, Tier 1 members get to set and direct the core research agenda, and have membership of the strategy board and technical strategy team.

Tier 2 costs £100,000 annually for which members receive access to research, a platform to showcase their business capabilities, access to the membership committee and representation on the strategy board and technical strategy team.

Tier 3 gives small-to-medium businesses a platform to engage in discussions for a reduced annual fee.

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