x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Where are all the superyachts at the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show?

Superyachts were large and in charge at last year's Abu Dhabi Yacht Show. But they are largely absent this year.

The yachts Moonlight, left, and M/Y Jana on display at the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show on Yas Island.
The yachts Moonlight, left, and M/Y Jana on display at the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show on Yas Island.

One element is largely missing from the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show this year: superyachts.

Only a handful of yachts over 30 metres in length made it to the show, which started yesterday at Yas Marina. Last year, there were 34 of these extravagant vessels, with the most expensive valued at US$100 million (Dh367.2m).

"Piracy and regional unrest are both massive influences on the show this year," said Andy Treadwell, the managing director of Informa Yacht Group, the organiser of the show, which is focused on the so-called superyacht sector. "They can't get their boats here because insurance premiums are too high."

Yacht companies are finding it difficult to convince underwriters to insure larger vessels against piracy.

"On top of that you throw into the mix the political instability at the moment, the unrest in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region, and people are just worried," Mr Treadwell said.

Some yachts from abroad were in Abu Dhabi in preparation for the show, but departed in the past few weeks as the unrest spread across the region, he said. There were "four or five" boats over 30 metres at the show yesterday.

In January, the organisers expected 20 yachts over 30 metres at the show.

"Sadly a lot of the big industry players don't really want to attend the show if they haven't got a boat to show off," Mr Treadwell said.

Palmer Johnson, a US yacht company, was planning to bring a $30m 46-metre yacht and a $24.5m 41-metre yacht to the show from the Mediterranean, but decided against it, citing the risk of losing the boats to piracy as the main factor, as well as the unrest.

"It was the uncertainty of what would happen," said Russell Morris at Palmer Johnson. He said underwriters were unclear on whether insurance would even fully cover the costs if they were lost to piracy. The company still had a stand at the show.

Still, the industry is generally optimistic about the long-term potential of the UAE and the wider region to become a yachting destination. Abu Dhabi is investing heavily in its marina infrastructure as part its tourism strategy and expects to have 45 marinas by 2030.

"There might be a bit of a lull at the moment, but that will change because there's such an interest in yachting here in the Middle East," Mr Treadwell said.

Industry insiders say other factors are holding back the growth of yachting in the region.

Regulatory red tape, such as strict visa regulations and registration procedures for boats, is also deterring marine tourists from visiting, said Erwin Bamps, the chief operating officer of Gulf Craft, a manufacturer based in the UAE.

"You add still rampant piracy and do you even dare to come in?" he said. "There are challenges that remain a big issue preventing this region from being turned into a yachting destination."

He said there was a strong market in the region for larger, more luxurious boats.

"I see some positives too," Mr Bamps said. "We do see opportunity for growth. The region is boating-oriented - we have clients who have bought four of five boats from us, constantly upgrading."