The Promise of a Blue Economy 

by | Apr 15, 2024

Every age brings its own flavour. As a university student, I have seen computers arriving and much later, the smartphone revolution. Talk of AI and Robotics marks the present times, but what is most promising and potentially transformative is the access to millions of small islands in the oceans that cover over three-quarters of the earth’s surface. If you visualise oceans as water-filled earth as irregular as the upper terrain of mountains and forests, it is easier to understand why it is not easy to access most of these islands. On many of these islands, people live, though sparingly, but their lives are old-fashioned at best, if not primitive. However, there is a hidden treasure in these islands, in the form of immense wealth trapped as minerals, oil, and gas. This untapped potential is a source of intrigue and curiosity, waiting to be explored and utilised for the benefit of all.

I have not sailed much, except for a trip from the mainland of Greece to an island in the Mediterranean. Still, I have read some great books about sea voyages and the role they played in shaping the history of humanity, especially the rampage by the European people upon the earth by killing indigenous people whenever they sailed to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas. Once you understand that the glory of London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona was built upon the wealth that was plundered from these territories and how millions of people were brought in as slaves and indentured labourers to grow food for their gun-wielding ‘masters’, your world view is bound to change. I highly regard writers like Joseph Conrad and VS Naipaul, who recorded both the ugly side of the affluent Europeans and the shining side of the tormented subjugated people and presented a whole picture of humanity in which they found another variety of beasts on this earth, even evil at times.

By chance, if I may say so, but indeed through the efforts of young Gopi Reddy, who is the most prominent of my young ‘brigade’, who has listened to me and put some of my ideas into action, Vietnamese-Australian Khoa Hoang, visited me bringing along a bag of adventure that he has seen in his life already and an even more powerful dream of a Blue Economy. I found a bundle of energy in a healthy body and a clear mind in Khoa, a chimaera of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs. He thinks like Gates, takes risks like Musk, and is a non-conformist and maverick like Jobs. We know about celebrities from their larger-than-life personas created in the media; I am talking about the spiritual connection here that can only be felt in their presence, and I could feel it when I met Khoa. Blue Economy will bring the elusive prosperity for the poor and marginalised of the world, which has not happened so far despite the hype and hoopla of progress around the globe.

Khoa was born on February 7, 1977, thus sharing the Aquarius Sun sign with me, for whatever it may mean. He was the second child and first son of his parents and would have three more sisters and a brother. The events in his country made him a refugee right from his early childhood, as he transited through British-ruled Hong Kong and then arrived and settled in Queensland, Australia. His father established businesses in Vietnam after it emerged out of decades of wars and economic mismanagement of resources in the 1990s, creating wealth.  Khoa returned to Vietnam in 2004 after completing his education in Australia. Genetically endowed with nationalism and brilliance, his forefathers were scholars and amongst the founders of the Academy Van Mieu that educated generations of Vietnam’s bureaucrats, nobles, royalty, and other elite members. His grandfather is buried in Hero’s Grave, a national monument.

In his early thirties, Khoa stumbled upon a treasure house, not of weapons, but of expansive machinery like aircraft engines and spare parts,  left behind by the United States Army in 1975 when they hurriedly exited Vietnam. These ‘stores’ were in ‘factory build’ condition, thanks to grease-paper packaging that kept dust and moisture away. Locked in massive ‘hangers’ infested by rats, lizards, and snakes over time, no one had approached them. It was wealth in billions of dollars, but only if integrated into the system. The venture was like walking through a maze blindfolded, with the risk of no return built into every step. Undeterred, Khoa risked his career in this enterprise, eventually leading him to stand in the presence of the former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. The details of the ‘barter’ worked out would never be known, but it was settled for the good of his country and himself, a testament to his courage and determination.

In the process, which went on for a few years, Khoa was bitten by the ‘military hardware’ bug and gained insights into the system’s ‘specs and operability standards’. He understood the five industries that ruled the world – the oil and energy sector, the aerospace-aviation industry, the shipping-trade industry, the banking-insurance-finance, and the military hardware and software. Whatever else exists in the world – electronics, computers, pharmaceuticals, businesses, universities, and governments of different ideological shades, must draw from these five industries for their existence. Youngsters are picked up as ‘spare parts’ of this system and ‘readied and groomed’ under the fancy names of education and skill generation, and start-up ecosystems fish for this talent whenever and wherever it exists. As of now, in 2024, the West will rule the world, controlling all five intricate and interwoven industry systems, and it is unlikely that this situation will change soon or even later. Through AI and Robotics, the control of the West is only increasing rather than loosening.

So, what made Khoa special? Did I see the shades of Gates, Musk and Jobs in him? He invested his fortune in acquiring entirely – lock, stock and barrel – the world’s only FAA transport aircraft through Amphibian Aerospace Industries – for he sees access to the millions of islands in the oceans as the ‘next logical step.’ No large ship can go there, and from where these ships are anchored, commuting with the island in small boats would be both hazardous and time-consuming. So, it would be best to have amphibian aircraft that can take off from the water’s surface and land back in the water after taking people, machines, and materials to and from these islands. Khoa calls these islands the El Dorado of the 21st century. In the sixteenth century, the stories of gold in the mythical El Dorado, deep in South America, drew the Spanish conquistadors. Khoa sees his fleet of Amphibian planes integrating thousands of mineral-rich islands with the modern world as ‘partners’.

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16 Comments

  1. Interesting insight into the Blue Economy, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your stories of the creative people are stimulating !!

  2. Khoa Hoang’s journey from a refugee to entrepreneur is inspiring and displays perseverance. His investment in transforming the military hardware and discovering the underlying potential it has, all while understanding the connection with the core industries makes him stand out. Individuals like Khoa remind us of the scope of the resources and opportunities around us waiting to be discovered and utilized for the benefit of human kind.

  3. It is surprising why ocean wealth is not pursued. Your blog so forcefully demonstrates how the sea area is a robust economic engine. The “ blue economy” includes traditional and emerging marine industries. India regards the blue economy as economic activities relying on the marine ecosystem or seabed. Some research institutes are working in that area, but industries have so far shied away.

  4. In India, seaplanes can navigate through large rivers and access towns without airports. For example, new economic corridors will emerge along the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Godavari and Narmada Rivers. I wish Mr Hoang had modified the seaplane into a floatplane, a boat that flies over water at a reasonable speed carrying goods and people.

  5. I was delighted to see the model of the famous Albatross seaplane in the picture with the young chairman of the company. Gujarat can be the hub for the amphibian aircraft industry.

    The blog emphasises that the blue economy involves all economic activity related to oceans and coastal ecosystems. In a fully realised blue economy, these areas are the primary mechanism for harnessing and producing resources and economic growth. The blue economy emphasises protecting and sustainably developing oceans and implementing policies that ensure better stewardship of marine ecosystems, wildlife, and resources.

    In India, the blue economy can be integrated with the larger green economy, focusing on efficient and equitable resource use and sustainable development without degrading the environment. The blue economy can contribute to food production, tourism, energy, transportation and waste management and can be a $1 trillion to India’s $5 trillion target.

  6. 40% of the world’s population lives near coastal areas, more than 3 billion people utilise the oceans for their livelihood, and 80% of world trade is achieved using the seas. The oceans, seas and coastal areas contribute to food security and poverty eradication. Maritime transport also plays a significant role in the globalised market through containerships, tankers, and ports for vessels. Furthermore, coastal tourism is the largest business in ocean-related activities in terms of employment. Economic profits mustn’t be at the expense of environmental degradation.

  7. Enlighting, knowing what is and from its pedestal looking for the unknown, AI might for now be a reserve of the West but LMIC will soon leap frog to catch up, as has happened with computing powers and communication that has drawn the best of us in the South and East. Safaricom in Kenya, brought to the masses 24/7/365 mobile money capabilities bypassing the long and laborious yet bureaucratic banking conditions that almost denied the rural peoples access to such services, a son or daughter in the urban setting or even in diaspora can empower their rural based peoples financially at the cost of sending a text message world over!

    Blue economy is not a strange phenomenon, monsoon winds powered traders for centuries and bringing cross fertilisation of cultures in the process, Kiswahili [a language spoken and connecting over 200 Million people in the East and Central part of Africa, and soon to be an African lingua franca] was born out of this: words from Bantu languages plus Arabic, Portuguese, German and English!

    Khoa’s work is a catalyst in the process of closing the circle of human inclusivity, his inventions wont just be limited to the Ocean Islands but even to people inhabiting many islands in the great lakes in many parts of the world, this time will tell.

    Thank you Prof Tiwari for this other topic stimulating our minds

  8. The global agricultural systems experienced unparalleled technological breakthroughs in the mid-1900s, thanks to the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution was necessary to feed the world’s expanding population, but it has also resulted in widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss because it was based on a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. To minimize the detrimental effects of human activity on terrestrial ecosystems and to fully utilize the resources and ecological services at our disposal, new production and extraction economic models are required. The developing blue economy might be the next chapter in humankind’s history of sustainable development, helping to achieve these goals and more.

  9. Dear Sir, What a thought-provoking reflection on the evolving tides of progress and the potential of untapped resources! Your exploration of the historical context, from the European conquests to the present-day dreams of a “Blue Economy,” paints a vivid picture of humanity’s complex relationship with wealth and power.

    The impact of your encounter with Khoa Hoang is genuinely inspiring. His vision for leveraging amphibian aircraft to unlock the wealth of millions of oceanic islands is a testament to his audacityyou have skillfully recognized and Appreciated and innovation, qualities that . It’s remarkable how he’s translating his experiences and insights into tangible solutions that could reshape the economic landscape, particularly for marginalised communities.

    The parallels you draw between past and present, from the legacy of colonial exploitation to the potential for inclusive prosperity through ventures like Khoa’s, underscore the importance of visionary leadership in navigating the currents of change. Thank you for sharing this enlightening journey of discovery and hope for a more equitable future built upon the treasures of our oceans.

  10. Sir, I met Mr Khoa Hoang in Delhi on April 16, 2024, and escorted him to the Akshardham Mandir. He told me that Seaplanes are operational in countries such as the Philippines, Canada, Australia, the United States, Finland, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, the Maldives, and Hong Kong. He is very enthusiastic about possibilities in India.

    I understand that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has taken proactive steps to boost the tourism sector. Gujarat, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, and Andaman & Nicobar have potential water-airport locations. In 2019, the Centre approved flights from six water airports, including Shatrunjay Dam (Gujarat), Guwahati Riverfront and Umrangso Reservoir (Assam), and Nagarjuna Sagar (Andhra Pradesh), under the third round of the Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme.

    The routes awarded for seaplane operations include the Sabarmati riverfront to the Statue of Unity and Shatrunjay Dam; the Guwahati riverfront to Umrango reservoir, Jorhat, and Shillong (Meghalaya); and Nagarjuna Sagar to Vijayawada and Hyderabad (Telangana). Agatti, Kavaratti, and Minicoy islands of Lakshadweep have also been proposed to be connected through the seaplane project under the fourth round of the UDAN scheme. I wish Mr. Hoang all success.

  11. Sir, the most intriguing aspect of the blue economy is its nascent stage. Unlike industries such as agriculture and fossil fuels, which have reached a plateau in terms of innovation, the blue economy is a realm of untapped potential. It offers unique opportunities for us to redefine sustainability and efficiency.

    The blue economy is promising because it is different. However, there has been a historical need for more investment in innovation in its sectors regarding financial and human capital, and we are just now beginning to understand the extent to which oceans protect us and provide critical ecological services.

    A pivot from governments and firms to focus on innovation and expansion of the blue economy could bring about a productive boom akin to that of the Green Revolution. A ‘Blue Revolution’ could provide a clear pathway towards a more sustainable and resilient future if done sustainably and with equity in mind. I wish Mr Khoa Hoang all success in his seaplane project. India can be his hub.

  12. Wow.. This is very interesting. Didn’t know about Mr Khao before reading this. Great to learn about his passions and potential of untrapped islands that he is planning to explore with Amphibian Aerospace Industries. Glad to also know the charisma you see him carrying and may God enlighten him with all the success for global good.

    Many thanks to you Arunji for opening up your readers mind to such new, interesting and positive thoughts every fortnight!

  13. I wish Khao all the best. On my recent trip to Vietnam, I was impressed with what that country has done to itself in the last 25 years. They have reached almost world-class standards. 25% of GDP comes from tourism only. Now, the exciting part – On the Halong Bay cruise, I shared my table with a senior person aged approx 65 years who had fled to the USA from Vietnam at the same difficult time via Hong Kong. His wife and some other family members (all now settled in Orange County in California) were with him, and they all visited Vietnam after approximately 50 years. They did not see for so long as they still had images of a devastated country of risks. His wife told us that she dragged her husband to visit Vietnam.

    I asked him if he was now proud of what Vietnam had done to itself. He kept quiet. I thought he did not hear me. He spoke after a few minutes- I now see the USA as my home country…..and he was crying.

  14. Amazing piece! I love thé talent and vision of the young Khoa.

    It is a possibility that deserves pursuit …

  15. It was a fascinating perspective on the potential of these untapped islands Prof Tiwari ji! Your historical insights about colonialism are a critical reminder of responsible development. Khoa’s story is inspiring – turning salvaged equipment into a successful venture shows remarkable courage and business acumen. His vision for using amphibious aircraft to access these islands is interesting. It could be a sustainable way to develop these resources while respecting the local communities. Perhaps the Blue Economy can create a more balanced and equitable system.

  16. Dear Sir interesting read , thanks for sharing

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