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First-hand Experience from a Marine Engineer in the Middle East

In today’s blog, we offer a unique perspective on marine engineering straight from the heart of the Middle East. 

Through the firsthand experiences and insights of our civil and marine engineer Nikola Žutić, we delve into the intricacies of navigating the waters of this dynamic industry. 

From job offerings to innovative projects, join us as we explore the ever-evolving landscape of marine engineering in one of the world’s most vital regions.

Let’s get started.

What were your reasons for moving to the Emirates?

I believe that the decision to relocate is always the result of various factors. In my case, it was a search for a secure and peaceful life, different challenges, and new experiences.

At what point in your career did you decide to take that step?

Leaving the country and working abroad is something I considered even during my studies. Coming from a family that had been living abroad for some time, the idea had been present since earlier, based on their direct experience. During my studies, this idea began to develop into a desire.

On one occasion, while my colleagues and I were preparing for an exam, we started a conversation about where we would like to work abroad. I expressed interest in the Emirates, while one of my colleagues mentioned France, where she eventually went and now works there. Therefore, be careful with your wishes.

Why did you choose the Emirates?

The main reasons for choosing the Emirates are directly related to the construction industry.  I first heard about the United Arab Emirates during the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. At that time, it seemed like passing information to me.

However, years later, as some of the most impressive buildings and developments in the world began to be built, such as the Burj Al Arab, The Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island, than later on Burj Khalifa, etc., I started thinking about the Emirates as a place where I would like to live, work, and gain experience.

Also, in the beginning navigating the job market in the Emirates posed challenges, as there was a scarcity of platforms connecting engineers with opportunities in the region. However, the landscape has since transformed with OROOK that not only streamlines job searches but also offers direct access to esteemed companies in both the Emirates and Saudi Arabia.


How did you transition from being a civil engineer to a marine engineer?

I transitioned from being a civil engineer to a marine engineer through a progression of roles and experiences in the construction industry. Initially, I used to work in the field of steel and concrete in Serbia, gaining valuable experience in structural analysis, design of steel structures, and project management. 

Upon relocating to the United Arab Emirates, I continued to work in the construction sector and steel structures, and then transferred to more specific coastal and marine industry projects. I held positions such as Project Engineer and Project Manager, where I was responsible for the design and execution of various coastal protection structures, marinas, and harbors. 

Through these roles, I developed a strong understanding of marine engineering principles and gained the necessary skills to transition into a marine engineering role.

Does a person have to be a marine engineer or can one switch to that niche?

It is possible, but not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance. Transitioning requires dedication, independent learning, and possibly accepting the guidance of other experts in the new field. Of course, recommendations are also key in establishing a base for starters.

How are licenses obtained within marine engineering and how essential are they?

Obtaining licenses varies depending on the company. Every company, whether involved in construction, engineering, or consulting services, has its trade license allowing the performance of specific activities. 

In the United Arab Emirates, licenses are structured in a way that requires engineers to progress through different levels of licenses gradually (for example, G+1, G+3, G+5 up to unlimited), and each level is tied to overall work experience.

A similar situation applies to licensing in marine engineering and construction, but unlike it, a license in marine construction is less diverse in terms of permits, instead, it mainly focuses on marine offshore and coastal areas. Yet, certain licenses require specific experience and years of work on marine projects.

Does an engineer with specific experience need to retake licenses or is their previous experience recognized?

To obtain licenses in the Emirates, engineers typically need to go through a process that involves submitting references for projects they have worked on, as well as certifications they possess. Based on this, candidates are called for an interview, which may include testing, to assess their competence. Experience is taken into account, but candidates must prove their abilities to obtain licenses.

What’s the situation with job offers in the marine engineering sector in the Emirates compared to other sectors?

Marine engineering represents a smaller niche compared to construction, which is a much larger industry with plenty of projects and employees. However, there are significant projects in the marine environment in the UAE. Coastal activities are often dictated by the tides. The industry isn’t closed to employment, but recommendations can be helpful due to various regulations and authorities.

What are the salaries like in marine engineering in the Middle East and how do they compare to other countries?

Salaries in the marine and coastal industry in the UAE tend to be lower compared to other countries in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia. This is because Saudi Arabia, being a rapidly developing nation, often offers higher salaries and more extensive benefits packages to attract talent. 

The UAE, while also experiencing constant growth and development, may offer slightly lower compensation due to their ongoing construction and expansion projects. 

However, it’s essential to note that salary levels can vary depending on individual preferences, with some professionals prioritizing higher earnings while others value a better work-life balance.

Is it common for a person to be employed in one company and get projects, or is it more common to be an entrepreneur and independently apply for marine engineering jobs?

In the UAE, it is common for the project owner, i.e., the investor, to engage the engineering consultancy company that will lead the project from the engineering perspective on behalf of the client. Once the consultancy role is finalized with a consultancy company, a tender will be published for the main contractor, usually a company with its own employees.

There is a certain administrative process for every project. The main contractor has its own team of specialists and labors to work on the project. When a company competes for the role of the main contractor, it goes through a technical evaluation that includes a review of references and the experience of employees. Then follows the commercial evaluation of prices.

Also, each team member (specially engineers level) undergoes interviews with the client to ensure they are competent for the job. This process ensures that qualified and competent individuals and companies are engaged on the project.

The main contractor is also responsible for hiring subcontractors for smaller disciplines. However, subcontractors should be previously approved and accepted by the client prior to their engagement on the project. The entire process undergoes rigorous checks and controls to ensure compliance and prevent any disputes.


What are, in your opinion, the dream projects in the field of marine engineering?

I would have to say transforming oil platforms into luxury hotels, building innovative ports, structures above water and creating marinas for superyachts are the dreams of every marine engineer.

Can you name us any active projects in this area?

Currently, active work is being done on the design tender (The Rig project) and the Oxtagon in Saudi Arabia, which represents the concept of building an entire city above water. 

Additionally, the Line project is underway, which redefines the concept of urban development and what cities of the future will look like.

Furthermore, various waterfront and coastal development projects are present in the region and UAE as well as developing and upgrading the existing water transport stations. Also, notable events include the Dubai International Boat Show (a nautical fair with a wide range of yachts, alongside the construction of marinas for their temporary docking) and the Abu Dhabi International Boat Show held annually where you can see all innovations in marine industry.

Are there any main European competitors in marine engineering?

Porto Montenegro represents an exceptionally luxurious marina most similar to those in the Emirates, while marinas in Split, Croatia, France, and Monaco are also significant competitors in Europe that shouldn’ be overlooked.

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