By Scott Bradley, the Managing Director of East Marine in Phuket
My journey began when I arrived in Thailand in 1991. The first chain of International yachts was beginning to emerge in the tropical waters of Phuket. Yachts from around the globe began to visit Thai waters, as word spread quickly about the people, the local food and its amazing landscapes and cruising grounds. There were 4 sailing yachts in Phuket Boat Lagoon anchored in the harbour, a Swedish, an American, a Canadian and Australian (my father).
Within a few years over 100 vessels could be found cruising in Phuket waters alone, many are still here and call Thailand home. Service companies were popping up around Thailand and the marine industry was forming itself at a rapid pace. Now we see vessels arriving from all corners of the globe, from smaller 10 meter sailing yachts to over 100 meter Superyachts.
Superyachts are like a small boutique hotel. Some have over 30 crew abroad creating income for local service companies, car rental, accommodation , supermarkets, restaurants, bars and the list goes on.
The size and volume of vessels worldwide is increasing rapidly with the average size of vessels doubling in marinas over the past two decades. Catamaran type sailing and power yachts are now filling up marinas around Thailand as the trend of more space and faster sailing become more important to buyers. Speed and size being two very important areas a modern day local buyer looks at. Marina infrastructure is obviously affected with upgrades required to berthing, power and water depth, and this obviously creates more work for local building companies as marinas grow in size and redevelop.
However, it is evident that more caution is required with the marine environment as an obvious concern for our planet and well-being. The Royal Thai Navy is more involved with protecting reefs and setting up moorings to assist yachts with mooring in safe areas, and importantly, vessels found anchoring in protected and closed areas for rehabilitation are being fined. Although this creates some friction between vessel owners and local authorities, the long term future is that the enforcement will benefit us all.
The huge issue which is still a worldwide problem is “plastic”. Although most of us are aware of the damaging environmental impact that plastic causes, still many beaches are covered with plastic bottles, bags and foam food containers, and it appears no solutions are being found.
On a positive side, we are still seeing growth in the industry, with several Australian and Thai owned marine businesses setting up over the past decade, employing many local Thais and supporting local communities.
As an importer of marine equipment I have seen vast improvements with decreasing import taxes. With free trade agreements being implemented over the last decade. However, local repair and refit companies still find difficulties importing products to repair yachts; most notably yacht communication equipment, such as VHF radios and AIS communication systems, are very difficult to import for yacht owners and local companies.
Furthermore, there are still a lot of marine equipment manufacturers that are not in free trade zones, such as Europe and US. It is very difficult to understand for an Internationally registered yacht owner or captain to pay tax on products which they cannot claim back on departure. I believe there are possible ways to setup VAT refunds, but paperwork and administration fees involved make it difficult for foreign registered vessels to receive there refund.
Overall however, most areas of the Marine business have seen a vast improvement over the past two decades and I am confident that the Thai authorities are working with us to further grow the marine industry.