Anchors away: The emirate’s boat building industry is on the rise

According to the most recent official data, the UAE’s maritime industry was worth upwards of $61bn as of the end of 2014. As home to the Port of Jebel Ali, the busiest port in the Middle East, Dubai generates a considerable percentage of this value. While container shipping and other industrial maritime segments have traditionally driven economic expansion, in recent years Dubai has also become a major player in the yacht and leisure craft segment, and the boat building industry has grown rapidly.

The number of yachts in Dubai has doubled since 2009, and the number of boats manufactured locally has also risen steadily. Meanwhile, Dubai’s reputation as a regional centre for leisure boating has also grown. The Dubai International Boat Show (DIBS), which in 2015 attracted 26,000 visitors from more than 120 countries, has become one of the world’s largest gatherings of industry professionals, companies and boating enthusiasts.

“Dubai has everything in place to become a global maritime industry hub and to be a centre of excellence for the yachting industry,” Erwin Bamps, CEO of Gulf Craft, a local boat manufacturer, told local media in February 2015. “There is a high degree of wealth, a commitment to the water-based lifestyle and the allure of Dubai as a brand that stands for excellence.”

A Long Tradition

Prior to the discovery of oil in the Gulf, Dubai’s economy was integrally linked with the sea. During this period the emirate’s fishing, pearl diving and dhow (traditional sailing vessel) construction industries were major revenue generators. This history is regularly referenced as an important precedent for the UAE’s rapidly expanding contemporary maritime sector. In 2014 domestic manufacturers produced 386 vessels with an individual value of $24m or more, up 8% from the previous year. According to ShowBoats International, a US-based luxury yacht publication, in 2015 UAE manufacturers had 15 superyachts under development – vessels that are 24 metres in length or longer – making the country the ninth-largest superyacht manufacturer in the world.

Key Sector Players

The development and regulation of Dubai’s maritime sector is overseen by the Dubai Maritime City Authority, formed in 2007 with a mandate to ensure the industry’s continued sustainable development, boost investment and regulate the rapidly expanding industry.

At the federal level, meanwhile, the industry is overseen by the Federal Authority for Land and Maritime Transport (FALMT). In February 2015 FALMT introduced a new yacht code, which is aimed at boosting safety and ensuring that yacht builders, operators and owners comply with international best practices. “Regulation and integration of the industry are key to establishing international credibility,” Bamps told local media. “The recent announcement of the UAE Yacht Code is a prime example.”

New Investments

Gulf Craft, which was launched in 1982 in the emirate of Ajman, is one of the largest superyacht manufacturers in the world. The firm produces around 500 vessels a year, 70% of which are exported outside the UAE. Gulf Craft operates four manufacturing facilities in the UAE and one in the Maldives. In October 2014 the company announced that it planned to invest $100m in a new 83,612-sq-metre luxury vessel manufacturing shipyard in the DMC.

At the 2015 DIBS, Italian manufacturer Comar Yachts announced that it was planning to open a manufacturing site in Dubai. The firm hopes to produce around 100 vessels in the UAE, mostly speedboats and catamarans in the 7-14-metre range. “The UAE has the advantage of being a major geographical hub, allowing us to extend our reach not only across the GCC but to India and South-east Asia as well,” Marco Liello, a partner at Comar, told local press at a pre-DIBS event in early 2015. “If you look at the success of the regional yachting industry, then a lot more shipyards should come to this part of the world.”