The Western Cape Maritime Cluster aims to bolster both the leisure and commercial boat building sector

The Dutch government is partnering with the South African boatbuilding sector to support a new umbrella body for the Western Cape, the country’s boatbuilding hub.

The Western Cape Maritime Cluster aims to bolster both the leisure and commercial boat building sector, and follows the formation of similar organisations in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape – two other coastal provinces. In particular, the new body hopes to enable joint ventures between South African builders and foreign investors.

“We have boatbuilding companies that want to set up in South Africa but don’t know how to do that,” said cluster spokesman Benny Bhali from Damen Shipyards in Cape Town. “Now the Dutch government are interested in taking this thing further,” Bhali said, adding that the Dutch had agreed to provide both logistical and financial support.

He said the new organisation stemmed from a Dutch business delegation visit last year, which highlighted the need for a regional umbrella body to “speak with one voice” and manager stakeholder engagement. A formal constitution was signed in November and the first official event held late last month. The Maritime Cluster is now in talks with other regional organisations to create a new national body.

Bhali said initial priority themes, to be discussed with government, include the creation of boatbuilding parks, financial support for new entrant builders, particularly black companies struggling to enter the market, as well as growing the boat export market. He said South Africa was well positioned to export smaller boats to the rest of Africa, in particular Namibia, Angola and the Seychelles.

“We also want to identify the global manufacturers to see who has an interest in having a footprint in Africa. There are ways we can do these things,” Bhali said.

The Western Cape Maritime Cluster would also seek to work closely with the newly established government-led South African Maritime Business Forum. Said Bhali: “We are both trying to achieve the same thing and have been following them very closely.”