The 6th Sri Lanka International Boat Show and Marine Festival attracted considerable interest from the public

The 6th Sri Lanka International Boat Show and Marine Festival concluded on Sunday night, held in the World Heritage city of Galle. The event, supported by the Government Export Development Board (EDB), attracted considerable public interest.

“Our key objective was to broaden the appeal of marine tourism and leisure boating to the general public,” said Gamini Herath, managing director of event organiser the Boat Building Technology Improvement Institute (BTI).

“We want them to see what leisure on the sea is about, from taking an initial day trip to the concept of owning a boat for private fishing and recreational use. In this respect we succeeded, as crowds of people packed the show for three evenings.”

While the event attracted crowds, there was a low number of boat exhibits. Speaking to IBI at the show, several local companies complained about restrictions placed on exhibitors by Sri Lanka Customs, which imposed penalties and fees at the last moment for exhibitors bringing in boats and equipment.

The event site was in the Galle Port, an area under the control of the Customs Authority. Exhibitors felt that the lack of co-operation with the authorities marred an otherwise successful event, as some exhibitors cancelled on the eve of the show.

A highlight of the event was the industry conference held on 27 October at the Jet Wings Hotel in Galle. This was well-attended by the industry with nearly 100 delegates from both Sri Lanka and overseas, including Belgium, France, India, Indonesia, Maldives, New Zealand, Poland and the UAE.

The conference focussed on marine tourism and how the boat manufacturing industry in Sri Lanka can improve and reach out to new markets. Keynote speakers were Sandrine Devos, secretary general of European Boating Industry (EBI), and Michal Bak, secretary general of Polboat, the Polish marine industry association.

Devos informed delegates about the activities of the EBI while Bak presented the success story of how Poland has become the second-largest manufacturer of boats under 11m in length in the world with production figures reaching 22,000 boats. Both Devos and Bak felt there was potential for the industry in Sri Lanka to work with EU companies in growing exports to Asia.

Cedric Le Rest, director of marine development at Yacht Sourcing with offices across South East Asia, said: “I thought the conference was very good, knowledgeable speakers and good networking with delegates, I was surprised in a very good way… I am interested in marina developments and they are starting now in Sri Lanka. It is very good that the EDB backs these events.”

Another conference delegate was Teo Aiello, marketing manager of Italian RIB builder Nuova Jolly Marine Srl. “The conference was a good networking event and I have made contacts with boatbuilders in Sri Lanka with a view to some co-operation.”

Boats produced in Sri Lanka attract a preferential rate of duty into India, a huge potential market once marinas are built, but difficult for exporters to penetrate from the EU with punitive rates of import duty. Sri Lanka, with its existing strong boatbuilding network, is seen as a good option, a base for production and supply to India and other markets in Asia.

Prominent exhibits at the show were two large sailing catamarans, Ceycat 53 models, for marine tourism built by Baff Polymech and operated by Sail Lanka – both businesses created by Belgium entrepreneur Pierre Pringiers. Now resident in Sri Lanka, Pringiers has 250 staff at his boat yards near Galle, manufacturing large sailing catamarans for marine tourism use in Sri Lanka and for export to Asia.

Other local builders who were positive about the show were Dhanusha Marine, which is already exporting boats to Korea, Scandinavia and the Netherlands and is now expanding its production capacity with a purpose-built production unit.

Neil Marine was another prominent local exhibitor, with over 55 years’ experience of fibreglass boat building and exporting to the Maldives and Africa as well as building boats for Menken Maritiem in Holland.