The Australian Border Force has announced exemptions on a case-by-case basis for ‘persons critical to operations of vessels’ and for ‘persons providing, or requiring access to, critical skills in Australia,’ which includes shipyards. The opportunity to capitalise on Australia’s refit and maintenance offering has already prompted superyachts to head Down Under, and the new exemptions will speed up the process of gaining entry permission for others.
88.50m Oceanco-built Barbara is one notable superyacht to have entered Australia in recent weeks, arriving in Fremantle, Western Australia. Interest in Australia has not just been registered in the surrounding South Pacific region, from where other superyachts such as Fidelis have come, but also around the world. Some are making the trip from Europe either to start or complete maintenance projects, while there have also been enquiries from superyachts based in Central America and beyond.
The Covid-19 pandemic dealt a heavy blow to an industry that revolves essentially around travel. However, business opportunities have arisen for marinas and shipyards as Captains look for safe berthing and to use the time productively to complete maintenance work. The last week has seen positive news emanate from Europe with shipyards resuming full operations and some sailing permitted. With the distinct situational advantages of Australia at this time, it is unlikely that the influx of enquiries to Australian shipyards will cease anytime soon.
Brian Keller, Customer Service Manager of BSE Cairns Slipway, told us of his optimism for the refit industry in Australia. “The interest has been building for quite some time,” said Keller, “but since Covid-19 there has been a massive spike in enquires for Superyachts to visit and refit in Australia. Not only are we seen as safe, but our health facilities are second to none.”
BSE boasts the world’s largest Mobile Boat Hoist, which this week was put to work on 54m Baglietto superyacht Mischief, and Brian believes there are many reasons why Australia is building momentum as a destination of choice. “Australia and Queensland are well placed for increased activity for superyachts. The Australian dollar is low, we are recognized as a safe destination and charter regulations have been relaxed so charter is available in Australian waters.” Meanwhile, over in Western Australia Echo Yachts’ Chris Blackwell has confirmed that his shipyard is in the process of bringing in 3 vessels in the 50-60m category.
Similar interest has been registered at Brisbane-based shipyard, The Yard. International Development Manager Mark Phelps explains the effects that the current situation has had on his workload. “We have had a significant amount of regional enquiry from Singapore, New Zealand and Tahiti but I am also taking enquires from as far as Mexico and the U.K.,” says Phelps. While he attributes the regional interest to Captains looking to be productive under travel restrictions, there are interesting factors stimulating interest from afar.
“The enquiry from further afield is primarily from yachts who are hoping for a South Pacific bubble, which may allow them to continue to cruise between various island nations without restrictions. These yachts will look to New Zealand and Australia to support them during the South Pacific cruise. Included in this group are the diehard America’s Cup followers who are still planning to make the passage to New Zealand in time for the event.”
As a former superyacht Captain who has toured the region, Mark Phelps knows first-hand what the South Pacific offers. “I brought a yacht down from Europe in 2014 for a 2 year South Pacific circuit, and 6 years on the Owner is still enjoying new discoveries here! The South Pacific has always been a bucket list destination for those with a passion for the ocean but with new cruising grounds gaining in popularity, including the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, the diversity of itineraries and cultural experiences adds another level of discovery and adventure to the travelling superyacht.”
Moving a superyacht to Australia and the South Pacific region may well prove to be an astute decision in the long run due to the prospects of travel opportunities opening. While the disruption to international travel is expected to last for another year, there has been much talk of a ‘Pacific Bubble’ opening to allow travel between Australia, New Zealand and select South Pacific islands. This provides plenty of promise for superyachts in the region, especially considering the passing last December of legislation to allow charter for foreign flagged vessels. The possibility of charter returning soon would be a huge benefit to yachts and agents in the region, and there is still the prospect of allowing Owners to fly in privately before international travel is restored.
A Pacific Bubble would certainly present greater opportunities to get more usage out of superyachts that have been forced into an idle state in recent months. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has said that work has already begun on establishing an Australia-New Zealand bubble, and if successful this could be extended to South Pacific islands. Among those keen to join the bubble is Fiji, a popular destination for superyachts adventuring the region. Among the other islands that could join Fiji in expressing an interest are Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands.
For now, though, it appears Captains are happy to make use of the situation to fix up their yachts in reputable shipyards and prepare for the next adventure.