Jan 18 - The glory days of the great shipyards are long gone but an increasing appetite for superyachts from the world's wealthiest is providing vital new business for today's ship and boat builders. Hayley Platt reports.
Visitor numbers at this year's London boat show were up - 17 percent on one of the days. But many were window shopping. Boat, yacht and ship builders are having to focus their attentions in tough times. And the super rich are being targetted by many. Richard Lambert is a yacht broker. SOUNDBITE: Richard Lambert, Managingn Director, Oceanstyle by Burgess, saying (English): "I think the secrets been looking to new markets. I think those companies that have been successful, have been looking to places such as the South East Asia, over to Brazil, Australia so these are markets that are really coming up and have buyers interested in getting into yachting and trying to understand and the culture of yaching and the lifestyle that will be associated with that." Only a handful of the world's wealthiest can afford one of these. The Eclipse, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is currently the largest at 164 metres. But that's about to change. Superyachts.com have included a new mega boat in their top 100 this year. It's topped by Project Azzam - a yacht being built for a top secret owner at Lurssen in Germany. It's 16 meters longer than Eclipse. Dubai is in third place with Saudi royal yacht, Al Said, fourth. At a mere 147 metres Topaz comes fifth. Herbert Aly is CEO of one of the world's biggest yacht makers Blohm + Voss. He says these days size is everything. SOUNDBITE: Dr Aly Voss, CEO, Blohm + Voss, saying (English): "If you take the last two decades luxury goods have always been on the increase, no matter what the crisis was. There are still a lot of extremly rich net worth individuals in the world who can afford and will afford such a vessel and what we've observed in the last 12 months is that the projects are getting bigger and bigger and bigger." Ship builders in particular have struggled since the 2008 financial crisis. An oversupply of container ships ordered before the economic crisis and competition from rivals in China and Korea haven't helped. But Giancarlo Ragnetti, CEO of Italian yacht makers Perini Navi, says orders have been helped by demand for big vessels. SOUNDBITE:Giancarlo Ragnetti, from Perini Navi, saying (English): "The American market is the first one which started to move again. We now have three sailing yachts and one motor yacht under construction, two American and two European, so 50 percent each." It's a familiar story - the luxury end of a market thriving while the rest is in the doldrums. Traditional ship builders are increasingly seeing superyachts as a way to keep them afloat.