The pandemic has shown that the economy of the islands cannot rely exclusively on tourism. Maritime transport and the ports provide a really good alternative, given the diversity of options they offers the labor market in the medium term. The PORMAR Chair at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC), sponsored by Fundación MAPFRE Guanarteme, has the goal of training young people in this area.

TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: ISTOCK

This last year and a half suffering the pandemic has proved to be a turning point for the country ’s economy, in which certain sectors have been particularly hard hit. One of them, of course , is tourism, which provides the basic livelihood for many in certain regions, where the crisis loomed large with no solution in sight. The Canary I slands, where some 40 percent of all employment depends on tourism, is the most obvious example. With the restrictions on travel and tourism, both domestic and foreign, the evolution of the economic indicators for the Canaries was worse than the Spanish average. And the already high levels of structural unemployment were exacerbated. Tourist activity grinding to a halt gener ated a vicious cycle of job destruction, business closures, a relentless spread of poverty and, ultimately, institutional instability.

The effects have been felt in every sphere, including in the port sector. In this sense, it is important to realize that 95 percent of goods entering the Canary Islands do so by sea. However, despite the reduction in tourism demand and local traffic, movements through the ports remained stable.

Perhaps the time has come to consider whether the Canaries can depend solely on sun and sand, basing its income almost exclusively on tourism, as that dependence makes its economy extraordinarily vulnerable. As has been demonstrated in recent months, the maritime port sector clearly offers an alternative with tremendous potential. And letting the islands’ inhabitants know this is one of the objectives of the PORMAR Chair at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Its director, Lourdes Trujillo Castellano, explains: “We must promote the diversity and richness of this sector, which ranges from the naval repair industry through to bunkering (supplying fuel to vessels, with all the logistics that this entails), and includes all the essential services provided by the ports, such as consignment or loading and unloading operations.” And she goes on: “Studying this sector, from different standpoints, is fundamental for achieving sustainable economic development.”

Our ports, fundamental in everyday life

Trujillo Castellano starts from the premise that tourism demand has dropped, something which “adversely affects the whole system” and so we must seek out alternative sectors. “From this perspective, promoting the port community is essential. Let ’s imagine, for example, an increase in the number of ships coming for repairs. This increase in demand immediately affects trade and, as a result, employment. And this effect then mushrooms throughout the economy,” she adds. That is why the sector must be promoted, so that citizens can be made aware of the importance it holds in their everyday lives. And the huge potential for gener ating a diverse range of high-quality jobs.

El sector marítimo portuario, una esperanza para Canarias

The Chair has an important job to do and a lot of work lies ahead, but the prospects are good. It’s only been working for just over a year, hindered by the pandemic abruptly interrupting its work, “but we’ve already achieved the dissemination objectives we set ourselves, thanks to running a series of webinars and to the results of some projects we’ve undertaken.” In fact, at no time did they contemplate closing; rather, they decided to adapt so as to be able to maintain their scientific activity.

What is the PORMAR Chair?

It is a space given over to training, research and the transfer of knowledge on maritime transport and ports, fostering and disseminating the study of this sector. To this end, “it brings together professionals from different departments and fields, such as History, Law, Engineering, Economics and Computer Science to address maritime port studies,” its director explains. It is precisely the multidisciplinary aspect of the Chair that is one of its greatest merits, since it encounters synergies with other ULPGC training areas, such as the Master’s Degree in the Repair of Ships & Offshore Units, or Ship Repair and Dry- Docking, among others.

But they also participate in national and international projects that address the maritime port sector from various perspectives. For example, the presence of women. Specifically, ‘Un Puerto Violeta’ seeks to increase the presence of women in the port environment, as well as promote the co-responsibility of all sectors to improve the quality of life of women within the port. While there is indeed an increasing female presence in our ports, “we’ve still not reached parity.” The good news is that several female students from various degree courses interested in the sector have been integrated into the Chair. “Some are still being trained under our supervision, but others ar e already working in this area. There is ever-growing interest, given the diversity of this sector,” Trujillo remarks.

Another area on which the Chair is working is sustainability. Specifically, the Climate Change Observatory project. Technical Energy, Transport and Waste Committee. Trujillo: “The maritime community is taking action to prepare for the future, striving to modernize itself by adopting new technologies and sustainable measures in an attempt, at the very least, to mitigate the effects of climate change, with hopes pinned on adapting to the new reality it brings about.”

The Chair also organizes a large number of events such as conferences and seminars related to topics of general interest with the participation of researchers and professionals from the sector; it participates in the publication of volumes related to the topics under study; it collaborates in the financing of presentations, publications of research works, and training activities for professors and collaborators linked to the Chair; and it fosters collaboration and the exchange of knowledge between universities and professionals by facilitating meeting spaces.

El sector marítimo portuario, una esperanza para Canarias

Fundación MAPFRE Guanarteme

The PORMAR Chair took shape on October 23, 2019 with the signing of an agreement by, among others, Fundación MAPFRE Guanarteme and the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Since then, the role of the institution has become essential, as the Chair’s director explains: “One of the top-priority objectives for the Foundation is education in sectors that generate added value for the economy. From this perspective, its work is fundamental in this area. Among other reasons because we are talking about a fundamental industry in the Canary Islands, with the potential to create new jobs and achieve sustainable growth for the local economy. It is also clear that this sector is integrated into the Blue Economy (it recognizes the importance of the seas and oceans as engines of the economy) which is a priority in the development strategy for the Canary Islands sponsored by the European Union. Fundación MAPFRE Guanarteme has set itself the goal of training young people to take up jobs related to this economy.”