After a hiatus of almost four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Colombia’s preeminent naval design and engineering fair returns, uniting the maritime defense, shipbuilding, military and merchant marine industries to share experiences, knowledge, and innovation and learn about the latest in military and peacetime naval technology. At ColombiaMar 2023, Between March 8 and 11, 2023, at the Cartagena de Indias Convention Center, more than 60 national and international exhibiting companies, international delegations from more than 20 countries and thousands of visitors will meet, network and share.
Held every year, ColombiaMar is the largest naval & maritime event in Colombia, and among the top two in all of Latin America. The event is organized by The Colombian Navy, The Pan American Institute of Naval Engineering, and COTECMAR—Colombia’s government owned shipbuilding and naval engineering company. Finance Colombia will be present, but for a preview of what to expect, Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss sat down for a conversation with the President of COTECMAR, Contra Almirante (Rear Admiral) Luis Fernando Márquez Velosa, the officer in charge of the event’s organization and success.
Finance Colombia: I know that you are super busy preparing the event, but ColombiaMar is the most important event in the marine sector. After four years, the ColombiaMar event returns. How do you think the interest of the participants, be they speakers, vendors, government entities…especially considering that we have a few years of pause due to COVID, how do you find the interest of all the participants this year?
Admiral Márquez: First of all, good morning, and thank you very much for this opportunity to be able to share with you and your work team what this great fair is. ColombiaMar is a fair that has been organized by COTECMAR since the Year 2006 and this has become one of the main fairs in the naval sector in the South American region. As you mentioned, after four years it was In 2019, when we held this fair in person due to the affectation of the impact of the covid in the years 2020 & 2021. We returned to this face-to-face mode after four years, we come again with what is the ninth version of ColombiaMar.
After having been able to cope with these difficult times due to the issue of the pandemic, the restrictions that impacted not only the way of seeing the world and people’s lives, but also the part of the world economy, we have this great opportunity to meet again with all these players who are important to the shipyard industry in our country, such as all the suppliers, all the companies that revolve around the development of the shipyard industry, such as the metal components, mechanical components, furnishing components, the hardware components, the industry 4.0 that revolves around auxiliary companies in the development of the shipyard industry to be able to satisfy all those needs of the different groups of interest that they have in the region.
In this area, well, we have great expectations because we know that at this moment it has been of great interest on the part of all the different actors, in meeting again, here in Cartagena, in Colombia we currently have confirmation of approximately 80 top-level companies, both national and international, that are going to participate in the event. We hope to have more than 4,000 people in attendance, among visitors from all sectors, from the industries, from the academic part.
Approximately 15 navies are invited, which are already confirmed. Right now, they come from Spain, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Italy, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Germany, the Dominican Republic, among all those who have been invited and obviously as you know, well not only it is the issue of the attractiveness as such of a maritime fair to be able to strengthen ties and relationships from the commercial and development point of view.
Simultaneously with the ColombiaMar fair will be the Eighth International Congress of Naval Design and Engineering, which is an exercise of an academic type that has always been carried out outside of ColombiaMar; precisely because due to the nature of COTECMAR, which is a science and technology corporation and everything it has to do with the academic side, for us it is fundamental. In this academic field, three specific themes will be discussed in the development of the Congress, which are:
One, all of which are the world trends, applied to ship designs as the world evolves, the part evolves. from what engineering has to do, since new developments and new projects are being generated in what has to do with the part of the trends to the part that are the ships of both the military part, as well as the commercial or maritime part for international trade.
The other topic is everything that the technological organizations that we manage are in terms of sustainability applied to the naval industry, in for example, the energy transition: everything that has to be focused on around protecting the environment, which is something that today is in vogue worldwide and also in this industry.
And finally, everything that has to do with opportunities and bets on competitiveness: what the shipyard industry has to do, through what naval industries 4.0 are, everything around the technological developments to manage the highly complex productive processes and that from the point of view of the shipyard industry, from the point of view of quality, automation and industry 4.0 products.
We see that there is great enthusiasm for the entire maritime and naval sector of our country and the region. The high interest, as I was telling you, in the number of invited countries, companies, from different countries, America, Europe, Asia that are going to accompany us at this fair and always looking at the development of the industry, what is current around shipbuilding, developments in repairs and maintenance that are carried out on boats for integral solutions. That is what I can tell you at this moment, as such, of what that expectation we have is and how we managed to capture the attention of all the participants in this event.
Finance Colombia: This topic of evolution seems very interesting and very impressive to me, as we have seen this last week, a supposed balloon of I don’t know what purpose, that is not defined entering Colombian airspace, but we have seen some changes in the international political environment. And Colombia, for example, in recent decades has focused on issues such as interdiction, on issues such as insurgencies and domestic challenges.
But Colombia is in the process of modernizing its armed forces and this balloon exposed the security challenges, the challenges of intelligence issues, defense, are evolving, they are changing. Now that we can see in conflicts high tech things like drones, aquatic drones, we’re talking about stealth technology and things like that are now being used. So how do these processes manifest? Like in Colombia, which is already in the process of modernizing its armed forces to face the challenges of the future. And so, my question is then, what is the role of ColombiaMar and of events like these to demonstrate the technologies, to share knowledge with countries, with partners, with colleagues, countries that are allies of the companies that are suppliers. What is the role of an event like this in the modernization of the armed forces?
Admiral Marquez: It is necessary to start initially from the role that COTECMAR plays for the part of the Colombian Navy and for the country. As you know, , COTECMAR always focuses its main effort on the development and innovation of products that meet the needs of the Colombian Navy to fulfill its mission. But it still produces items with dual-use technologies to satisfy the needs of both the military, and the civilian sector, and in the same way focus on satisfaction of the needs of the Colombian people.
In this order of ideas, within those roles that we fulfill, from the point of view of the shipyard industry, for construction, repair and maintenance. Initially with companies at the national level, generating productive resources for their development and strengthening, but if we look at the external sector where we rely on some technological allies, speaking of countries that have greater experience, greater capabilities from a development and technological point of view to be able to achieve synergies with them that allow us to develop the products that are initially required by the Colombian Navy.
That for what purpose? First, right now from the point of view of the articulation at the level of what the Colombian Navy does with the different countries of the region, that allows it from the point of view of protecting the patrimony of the Colombians, which is the main thing, the main task carried out by the Colombian Navy.
And second, to generate synergies with the other navies in the region and in the world to be able to face the different, let’s say, transnational threats that affect security or that threaten the interests of our country. There are few who will know, everything that has to do with drug trafficking, human trafficking, what smuggling is, the illegal fishing or the challenge that we sometimes have with respect to protect our natural resources.
So it is what allows us, from the point of view of the corporation to contribute to the Colombian Navy, and the different state entities, what this development focused on the shipyard industry has to do with. These scenarios such as ColombiaMar are of great importance, which allows us to strengthen this relationship with all these allies, both from the private sector, homeland companies, international companies seeking to search and present solutions that meet those needs.
We have an example of this, if you remember last year, in recent years, which was one of the emblematic projects currently of the corporation in Codesarrollo, which was the ARC Simon Bolivar Marine Scientific Research vessel, the General Maritime Directorate, which was a ship, since it was co-developed by COTECMAR with a technological ally, seeking to adjust to the needs of the Maritime Directorate to have a ship with capacities for investigation of everything that has to do with our marine areas in the Pacific and the Colombian Caribbean, for research, for the protection of natural resources. It is a ship that has the capacity to go to Antarctica at this time, which was part of what the Maritime Directorate is also looking for.
If you don’t know, recently, last year, in November, a contract was signed with the Navy, for the construction of three platforms. Among these are an ocean going patrol boat, a Colombian ocean patrol boat designed entirely within Colombia by the shipyard with an interdisciplinary team of naval engineering design and that we are going to build for the Colombian Navy.
Starting this year, 2023, we will also continue with the project for the construction of the first frigate in Colombia. It is a project that is currently being co-developed with a technological ally to achieve that basic design for the ship that the National Navy requires to fulfill its constitutional role, as the protection of the aforementioned Colombian maritime patrimony.
A logistical support ship is also being contemplated to satisfy the logistics needs of the Navy but in the same way it is a multi-mission ship that is also intended to provide support when required to the Colombian people in everything from situations in insular areas, or areas far from the national borders, which at some point might require, due to some special situation, support from the military forces, in this case the Colombian Navy.
I concatenate all this, with the work that we have been encouraging these 23 years by COTECMAR and where we use this platform such as ColombiaMar to be able to strengthen those relationship ties with all our allies in the commercial area and show the region, the world, to the different sectors, both the public sector of the country and the variety of the region. We have the products with high added value that the corporation already develops and builds.
Finance Colombia”: Interesting, you have been very kind, generous with your time. The last question is that for the attendees of the last events of the previous years, what would be the changes or expansions that you would like to highlight for the event this year and how many exhibitors, speakers and attendees do you hope to have there in Cartagena this year?
Admiral Marquez: Regarding that, initially I can tell you that what we hope to be able to show the industry, the different countries that are going to accompany us and the academic part is, first of all, what has been the development and evolution of the capacities that have generated by COTECMAR with different products and technological innovations.
We are going to have in the development of ColombiaMar extended reality, virtual reality, how it has contributed to us from the point of view of productive processes and avoid setbacks in the field of shipbuilding and design. And likewise, in ship repair it is a tool that has multiple uses that benefit the industry. An example of this, extended reality, has currently allowed us by the IMO (International Maritime Organization), there is an instruction that by 2025 old-fashioned ships that did not have a ballast water treatment system that goes into the bilge and that [dirty water] was thrown into the sea. In certain place, they generated a great risk for migratory species because they dumped water, and also polluted.
So there is a BWTS system, which is a treatment system for these ballast waters that was being installed in some countries in Europe. And the corporation appropriated that work, that development and achieved with this extended reality and reality. Firstly, one can virtually achieve that any ship that wishes to implement it can do a 3D survey in the specific areas according to how they have distributed their engine rooms, to be able to design and propose the installation of the system so that they can comply with this requirement. It is one of the tools that we are going to show in the framework of ColombiaMar.
In the same way, it is a tool that serves the training process that we have also used and taken advantage of, as an example when developing some of the products, such as the cod boats, so that by doing the simulation in this tool, the crews can train when required. It will also allow us to show the different projects that we developed, advancing as the theme of the same marine scientific research ship where the part is the electronic model or of the other ships, such as the oceanic patrol boat that we are going to build and the frigate too, so that they have the perspective with the use of the tool, how these projects are approached and have that experience.
On the other hand, what we are also looking for and that has been working, not now, but since 2019, when the strategic direction of the four-year period by the corporation was projected, within one of its axes or the lines of action, which was part of the development of dual-use technologies for the benefit of improving the quality of life of Colombians, social development.
This is a topic that we saw working, we have also evolved with new designs that are available to satisfy all these needs at the country level, but also at the regional level, that we have different types of vessels for integral action in the fluvial zone. Medical ambulatory transport boats, educational platforms, that we want to show and take advantage of from the point of view as a strategy that the corporation manages, to contribute to the development of the country and to all the Colombian people.
These different, let’s say, solution alternatives are going to contribute to the solution of some of the problems that exist at a social level throughout Latin America. So this is going to be a great opportunity to also be able to show these dual-use technologies as a bet from the point of view of everything that is the promotion of innovation, development in what it has to do with respect to the technological shipyard industry of our country, linked to the part that is the internal productive confrontations of the country with the companies, but it also forms what has to do with employment generation and development for the country.
Finally we have everything that has to do with a project that is quite interesting for us and that we want to make known as the Cotec Energy Boat project, it is a boat that has been in development for some time, since last year by the corporation, which is a prototype of a USV vehicle, an unmanned electric surface vessel, that is, a bet on everything that has to do with this energy transition project, that is sought through new and innovative products worldwide and obviously at the country level. It is a design, let’s say, on a small scale that allows us, with a remote control system from the shore, to demonstrate how it is viable to implement this type of technology, taking advantage of solar energy, solar panels or with the electrical energy, an electric motor that can be used remotely, let’s say, to show what progress has been made in the development of this type of product focused on the energy transition and the new technologies that are currently being advanced worldwide.
This is work that is being carried out jointly not only with COTECMAR, but also with a technological ally here in the country, the company Automotech SAC, which is going to present itself as a dual-use platform that may also be of interest to some entities of the Colombian state or some of the marinas in the region. So let’s say that as the three vertices that we currently have focused on correspond to what we want to highlight in the changes and new advances that the corporation has in this ColombiaMar 2023.
Finance Colombia: It is very impressive. It is very exciting to see that they are highlighting issues from the technological to the social here in Colombia because that has obviously been a very important issue in the country. So, Admiral, thank you very much for your time. And I hope to see you and your colleagues at the event for sure, we already have our reservations there in Cartagena and I hope to see you and also our readers there.
Admiral Marquez: Thank you very much, it will be a pleasure to have your company and your team join us at this great event that marks a milestone in what the shipyard industry has to develop in our country and that COTECMAR has been leading for 23 years. We know that this new fair in ColombiaMar and the International Congress of Naval Engineering will be a total success, because we have a fairly big commitment and we believe in what the country has been developing, in terms of this industrial development that we need and obviously looking for a Integral development for the industry, but always for the benefit of the Colombian people and the needs of our Colombian military. Thank you very much for your time and this great opportunity that you offered us today.