Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A hole in the ocean

The Gulf states are famed for their maritime prowess.

There is today a growing amount of maritime traffic, consisting not only of containerised and loose cargo, but also fishing boats and pleasure craft. Dotted regularly along the coast of the UAE are numerous little harbours, largely filled with GRP open motor boats. There are also more traditional dhows in either wood or plastic, and less traditional and almost exclusively Tupperware sailing or motor yachts.

Some of the harbours and marinas aren't so little either, and the number of these is increasing.

Owning a boat is one of those things that 'rich' people seem to 'do'. The concept of someone scrimping and saving in order to afford a boat doesn't seem to occur to marina operators or purveyors of spare parts. Swindleries Chandleries appear to regard a boat owner's wallet as a goldmine to be worked to exhaustion at every available opportunity. Nevertheless, I confess to wishing to own a boat, but alas have no hope of being able to afford the sort of boat I'm willing to own. Not for me is the open-topped plastic projectile with about four-hundred two-stroke horses dangling off the back. Dubai Marina recently decided to ban two-stroke engines, which may be the thin end of the slippery slope to the demise of two-stroke outboard motor market here.

I want more comfort than that offered by an open boat. I want a cabin. And I want a vessel that's big enough to handle a sea that's rougher than a millpond. I fell in lust with a 42 foot trawler yacht when I was at the Dubai Boat Show earlier this year. Generous benefactors who fancy donating half a million quid to The Grumpy Goat's Afloat fund please let me know.

An unfortunate practicality of boat ownership involves where to go and what to do with it. As a diving platform, Dubai is no longer a good location. Poor underwater visibility because of dredging and reclamation through the rainbowing technique has rendered most west-coast dive sites not worth visiting. The Mussandam peninsula is very interesting from a boating and diving point of view, but it's in Oman and therefore requires a prohibitively high pile of paperwork to visit in one's own boat.

I read in the local press that Dubai is intending to increase the amount of pleasure-boat traffic by tenfold over the next few years. The mega-rich owners of islands on The World will almost certainly need a boat each. The only real alternatives - sea planes or helicopters - would be a lot more difficult to park in Dubai. How about water taxis? How likely does it seem that the mega-rich owners of their own private islands would rely on public transport?

So what do we find? An enormous increase in the number of marina berths to provide moorings for this projected geometric growth in private boat ownership. That's a lot of potential income for marina operators.

Years ago I used to own and operate a Marina, but it failed its MOT and had to be scrapped. boom! boom!

I may be wrong, but presumably people own boats in order to ride around on them. Alas, too many boats serve solely as tropies to bob in the marina collecting dust on top and barnacles beneath.

Dubai Coastguard's current requirements (which have the habit of changing with the wind) before one is permitted to take a boat offshore are currently fairly onerous. A copy of an official form has to be filled in with the name of the vessel, registration details, owner, people on board, destination, purpose of voyage, etc, etc, at least 24 hours in advance. The form gets officially signed and stamped 'approved' by some faceless bureaucrat before being faxed back. Occcasionally a phone call is required to remind the coastguard to fax the form back. Prior to leaving harbour this form, together with the boat registration and names and ID details of everyone on board, has to be given by hand to the local coastguard.

A couple of weeks ago, the Dive Club was, at that point, refused permission to launch. The reason given was that the club, that owns the boat and has it registered with the Dubai coastguard, was apparently not on the official approved list of 'people who are allowed to go diving'. Yet a week later the same coastguard wasn't even interested in seeing the paperwork.

Having, in their mercy, allowed us to go offshore, does the coastguard monitor our safe return? Not so I've noticed, although I make the effort to drop into the office and say that we're back. Could we call M'aidez on a marine-band radio in case of emergency? No chance. Marine VHF is virtually prohibited here. Anyone caught using one is liable to a hefty fine, and in any event all channels except Channel 16 'non-stop habibi music' must be disabled. Compare this with elsewhere in the world where owning at least one marine VHF radio and being licenced to use it is openly encouraged, if not compulsory, for any boat bigger than a coracle.

My point is this. If the grandees of Dubai coastguard wish to devise and operate a Byzantine if not to say Kafkaesque system to control boat movements, how do they hope to cope with a ten-fold increase in pleasure-boat traffic? It would be prudent in my opinion to allow boat users to talk to each other and to the coastguard, even when out of mobile-phone range. "Ahoy there! Can you let me know your phone number so I can call you to explain that you're about to run agr...oh, never mind." By all means licence marine VHF to control the idiots, but don't ban it. Some form of certificate of maritime competence might be wise too. The current rather frightening reality is that anyone with a sufficiently fat wallet can buy a boat and cruise away in it without the first idea how to use a chart, a compass or a rope.

Or perhaps the intention is to make going offshore such an administrative palaver that it ensures all boats are kept firmly moored in some posh marina, solely to provide somewhere for their owners to sit and drink their juniper-berry-flavoured beverages.


nzm said...

Scary, isn't it?

And you forgot about the Submarines too!

One of the drivers of our dive club boat got into serious trouble when a jetski ploughed into the dive boat as it was leaving the JBH Marina. The driver was taken to the station and held in a cell for 24 hours - and it wasn't even his fault. The guy on the jetski didn't know a single maritime right of way rule, and he was a well-to-do local. He expected the dive boat to move out of his way!

We see idiots leave the marina every day. They don't know the pass to port rule, they go way too fast, and heaven help them if they should ever hit a wave in the (un)trim state of propulsion in which we see them heading out.

Congrats on being included in Gulf News' Pick of the Week!

LawfulGoodOfCowplain said...

Ah, the text version of a familiar conversation over many a glass of juniper juice plus ice and a slice. Back in Blighty the various inland/river licencing bodies have found that HM Govt will reduce their grant to make them put the licence fees up (and reduce maintainance...) due to a financial foul up by another Govt Dept. Economists then did the sums and established that there will be a net sharp drop in licence revenue. And the EU want fuel to become so pricey that I dare not mention it to expats who have never seen such numbers on a fuel station invoice save as the total cost of purchase, not price per litre.

Relax Goat, if I still manage to afford a boat when next you visit we may manage a few miles/hop juices.


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