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Atef Abou Merhi

BSc (Hons) Shipping and Port Management
Graduated 2010

Portrait image of Atef Abou Merhi

Why did you choose Solent?

The strong, diverse maritime programme that the University offered. I came from abroad after finishing high school, and I had already made up my mind to study shipping in the UK – therefore Solent was a top choice. The cherry on top was the location in Southampton, which by itself brings such a strong maritime heritage.

What were your studies like?

The lecturers brought everything along with them that students might need when it comes to a specialised industry and course. With a very high-paced environment, you could easily get stuck in the past; however the lecturers were always up to date in topic discussions.

I remember picking a few topics out of the Lloyd’s List daily newspaper that would turn into a long discussion, with a lot of whys and ifs. People’s backgrounds were very diverse, ranging from finance, environmental organisations and ex-seafarers, to logistics and operations.

What made the difference was practice versus theory. Back in our day, we had a navigation and meteorology module, and the facilities allowed us to use real tools when applying navigation, voyage planning, weather forecasting, and so on. We also had days where we went out to sea on the Solent, to give us hands-on experience.

Similarly, the live simulations of ship loading helped us learn about stability and other critical items through actual practice. With Solent’s recent upgrades and new simulation centres, the course will offer some of the best facilities in the region for students – if not the very best.

What did you learn or study which has stuck with you over the years?

What stuck with me are all the practical things we studied: navigation, creating routes on real maps, longitude/latitude – and applying them in reality – are things I keep on remembering. In fact, it encouraged me to take further skipper and yachting lessons afterwards! Other memorable aspects include the visits we had – for example to DP World Southampton. The company was taking over the port at that time, and being able to visit the facilities and see how huge the operations were still stays with me.

What did you like best about living and studying in Southampton?

Southampton is a city that revolves around its students. The number of students in the city makes it a perfect place to live for studying. It has the calm atmosphere yet boiling spirit of students everywhere. You could see this during the weekend or nights out. The neighbourhood was always comforting and the size of the city was ideal. On the other hand, the location and history of Southampton city help in adding value to studying maritime. The international culture and the University’s location at the heart of the city give you the best of both worlds.

Maritime is the lifeblood of trade, connecting the world together. It’s an industry that creates opportunities and offers daily challenges ... it’s an exciting rollercoaster!

What did you like best about being a Solent student?

For me, it is no secret that joining Solent was first and foremost due to its strong maritime programme. All my expectations towards learning resources were met, and along with this came the support of the faculty and course leaders. Even after graduation, you could always reach out for support.

What did you take away from your time at Solent University?

Friends and connections – whether fellow students, alumni of the programme, or lecturers – are what you get out of it most. I still have solid connections with fellow students, some of which have actually developed into mutual business interests as well. In fact, right before answering these questions I was on the phone with one of my 2010 Solent classmates!

Tell us a little about your career so far

Like many students in maritime, I came from a shipping background. So after graduation, and after a bit of training, it was obvious that I should join the family business. With all its ups and downs, it was definitely a steep learning curve over the past 10 years, which led to interesting new projects and opportunities.

What were the challenges, starting out?

We are the class of 2010, so basically the class that graduated right into the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. It was challenging in all aspects – even joining the family business – focusing on how to sustain, rather than developing proper growth. However, I believe that starting out during this phase made us all stronger.

What do you wish you’d known then that you know now?

Don’t ever take anything for granted. Learn to keep an open mind on change. And it’s your mindset during the tough times that counts.

What are you working on at the moment?

Alongside the family business – which is a shipowner mainly specialising in car carriers and cruise vessels – in 2020 I started up a regulated private equity fund (Pelagic Partners) that focuses on investments in maritime assets and technologies. The fund – which is basically a ship-owning fund – has teamed up with reputable ship owners and raised equity, mainly from the Middle Eastern market/high net-worth individuals. This venture is quite exciting, as you create your track record and credibility as you go. There isn’t one specific duty to focus on during the day, but it’s a matter of allocating time smartly among various tasks – organisation, investors, operations, new projects, and so on. Alongside investing in steel, the plan is to have green initiatives investing in technologies that will help towards the path of de-carbonisation.