Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 May 2020

Calmer waters for boat makers in the UAE

Boat manufacturers in the Emirates are sailing on a tide of renewed confidence after sales surged last year.
The chairman of UAE boat maker Gulf Craft says that, while the financial crisis is over, psychological scars remain. Pawan Singh / The National
The chairman of UAE boat maker Gulf Craft says that, while the financial crisis is over, psychological scars remain. Pawan Singh / The National

UAE boat manufacturers are sailing on a tide of renewed confidence after sales surged last year.

The dedicated Made in the UAE pavilion at this year's Dubai International Boat Show, sponsored by Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which starts on Tuesday, is providing additional optimism to small and medium-sized boat firms by offering them a platform to showcase their skills to a wider, international market.

As many as 25 companies will be included in the pavilion. The boat show's organiser, Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), would not give a specific number.

Boat sales in the UAE grew 40 per cent last year compared with 2011, according to a report compiled by Mike Derrett Marine, a consultancy, for DWTC.

The trade centre would not say how much the boat industry in the UAE is worth but did say that from 2009 through to the end of 2012, marina berths in the GCC were estimated to grow from 11,000 to 14,925, an increase of almost 4,000 berths.

Ahmed Al Zaabi, the assistant manager of Ras Al Khaimah-based Julfar Craft, said the company was excited to be included in the pavilion and attending the boat show for the first time.

Julfar paid Dh10,550 (US$2,872) to have one of its small boats at the show. (Larger companies pay nearly three times that for small boats) Currently, most of Julfar's customers are in Kuwait and Oman.

"We are looking to get more customers round the world," Mr Al Zaabi said, adding that finding resources within the budget for marketing was difficult.

Mr Al Zaabi said the company had this year taken on more employees and now had six boat moulds, up from four previously, allowing it to increase production. Jalfar is scheduled to open a second factory in June.

"When we open the factory we will also start making small yachts," he said. Since the start of the year, the company has received 15 boat orders compared with about eight or 10 in the same period a year ago.

Gulf Craft, the daddy of UAE boat makers, is the only local manufacturer of superyachts and as such is not considered a small or medium enterprise.

However, the company's chairman, Mohammed Al Shaali said the introduction of the pavilion was an important way for the industry to consolidate its position as a "capital for the marine industry in the Middle East".

Mr Al Shaali believes that while the financial crisis is over, psychological scars remain. His factory in Umm Al Quwain now runs at 50-60 per cent capacity whereas before 2008 it ran at 80-90 per cent capacity. He said he had no plans to increase output in the near future although he conceded the company was now producing more bigger boats - three or four superyachts a year.

Even more pessimistic is Robert Mitchelson, the director of Used Boats Dubai, a brokerage. Last year he started offering his own yacht for charter and he does not believe confidence is "anywhere near where it was" before 2008.

"People might no longer be able to afford ownership, but I wanted making yachting accessible through yacht charter," he said.

lgutcher@thenational.ae

Updated: March 3, 2013 04:00 AM

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