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Pirates and poachers create local opportunity

Cape Town boat builder responds to a need.

CAPE TOWN – Local shipbuilding and maritime solutions company Nautic Africa has begun building seven 35-metre patrol vessels for West African clients. The vessels, whose combined contract value is over R600m, are the first in their class to be designed and built in South Africa.

Nautic Africa has already laid keels on two of the vessels, with three to follow this month. It expects to make its first deliveries next year and to complete the contract early in 2015.

The orders resulted from the company’s collaboration with West African navies, as well as oil and gas companies, to develop an effective way of counteracting illegal fishing, piracy and other illicit offshore activities.

“Piracy in the region is a bigger problem than it is on the East Africa coast,” says Nautic Africa CEO James Fisher. “What set us apart was our willingness to develop a bespoke solution for our clients.” The vessels were custom-designed to cope with the challenging security issues in the Gulf of Guinea. Nautic Africa’s in-house design team collaborated with a Cape Town-based naval architect to develop the vessels which are light and fast, and have the capability of larger, more expensive vessels.

All come equipped with a ballistic protection system, satellite tracking and marine navigation equipment. The 35m vessels, dubbed Sentinels (see below), are also equipped with two lightweight ‘interceptor’ vessels called Guardians.

“The majority of territorial water off-shore threats are from largely indistinguishable craft less than 12 metres in length,” said Fisher. “The FDIs, which are deployable in minutes, enhance the patrol effectiveness of offshore assets and enable personnel to communicate with small fishing boats and/or make arrests at sea level. This makes policing safer and more effective.”

The company also provides ongoing maintenance and support for the vessels. This sets it apart from other, cheaper competitors. “The upfront acquisition cost is not as important as the lifecycle cost,” he says. “You will find that a cheaper offering has cut costs somewhere, and this only becomes apparent further down the line.”

Nautic Marine has an interim contract from the department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to provide services and support for the six maritime patrol vessels that were handed over to the SA Navy and fell into disrepair following months of lying idle in the Simon’s Town dockyard. Damen Shipyards in Cape Town is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the vessels.

This follows the cancellation of the contract that saw empowerment company Sekunjalo win the contract for the ships’ operation and maintenance. The tender will be re-issued in due course, he says.

Growth prospects are good. While the market for recreational vessels slumped in the recession, Fisher recognised that the market for certain types of commercial vessels was growing along Africa’s West coast. “The boom in Africa’s oil & gas industry has created the demand,” he says. The company’s biggest clients are in Nigeria and Ghana, where it has satellite offices, and to a lesser extent in Angola and Namibia. Opportunities may arise in East Africa where the oil & gas industry is growing fast.

The company has been in existence since 2008. At the time Fisher was building fiberglass replicas of sports cars and had an interest in a recreational boat building business in Dubai. The recession and the strengthening rand (R6.50/$1) limited the scope of both of these businesses and Fisher turned his attention to commercial boat building.

He is not a naval architect or engineer, but has been building and designing all his life. In 1989 he and two friends developed the ‘snakeboard’ which to the uninitiated looks like a modified skate-board. This started a global craze and the company Snakeboard International was listed on London’s AIM exchange. Eventually it was acquired by British toy company MV Sports.

Fisher is effectively a business developer and he has been able to source the skills he needs as the company has grown. Good skills are available in Cape Town he says. These include marine welders, fabricators, designers and project managers. However Fisher has initiated an apprenticeship program to ensure the company has the skills it needs as it grows.

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