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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 00:02 GMT
Taiwan's yacht builders aim high
By Caroline Gluck
In Taiwan

Groundbreaking work has begun in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, on what will be Asia's first yacht manufacturing industrial zone.

The purpose built zone is aimed at helping the island's builders of mega yachts larger than 80 feet have more room to expand; increasing their productivity and their global market share.

68 foot yacht launched at sea
Taiwanese yacht builders pride themselves on their workmanship

Taiwan is already one of the top places in the world for building luxury yachts, ranking number five.

Exports last year were worth nearly $200m (116m).

Twenty years ago, it used to be one of the top places in the world for the mass manufacturing and exporting of small, cheap leisure boats.

But rising costs and strong competition from neighbouring China meant that two-thirds of the island's boat yards went out of business.

Restructuring followed.

"Taiwan no longer produces cheap material, cheap products," says John Lu, president of Horizon Yachts, one of the world's top yacht manufacturers. "Taiwan moves over to the high end value added products now, like our products, like our yachts.

"In the past few years, we invest a lot," he said. "We have very good, very skilful workers. Our boats, you can hardly find two boats the same; we design for each individual, to suit their personal needs."

Arts and craft

Most of Taiwan's yacht yards are based in Kaoshiung.

The trend these days is to build fewer, but bigger and more expensive boats with multi-million dollar price tags.

Jack Chen, chairman of the Taiwan Yacht Industry Association and president of Bluewater Yachts, says part of Taiwan's success in the industry is the flexibility and willingness of companies to provide custom-built boats for the most demanding customers.

John Lu, Horizon Yachts
John Lu says Taiwan-made yachts have a personal touch

"Most boat builders have been building boats in Taiwan for over 30 years and we have a worldwide reputation," he says.

"Most of the mega yachts we provide are what we call custom-built boats.

"The buyers, they want to have a dream; the dream is not just the boat; they want art, and high workmanship and high technique and Taiwan can provide whatever you want, with excellent cost."

Global player

Government-backed plans to build the new yacht industrial manufacturing zone, on 46.5 hectares of land in Shin Da por in Kaohsiung county, could help ensure Taiwan's continued success.

Many existing yards are built inland. The process of moving larger yachts by road to harbours for sea trials and export can prove a logistical nightmare.

68 foot yacht launched at sea
Taiwan's boat builders have decades of experience

The special zone is also being linked to another scheme to develop a nearby harbour as a yacht marina and leisure zone, with five star hotels and other recreational facilities.

Kaohsiung county governor, Yang Chiu Hsing, says the projects could create thousands of new jobs and boost exports by as much as a third.

"Taiwan used to be known as the kingdom of yachts, but over the years, many manufacturers moved to China," he says.

"We hope the new yachting zone can help keep businesses here and help Taiwan become one of the top three yacht manufacturers in the world."

Taiwanese waters

Recent efforts to promote watersports and marine tourism in Taiwan could also help.

Kaohsiung held its first marine festival this summer; while Taipei is hosting the first ever International Boat and Watersports Show in December.

Taiwan's yards were forced to focus on developing international markets because of the lack of a domestic market.

For decades, when the island was under martial law, amid fears of the military threat from China, its waters were off limits to leisure boats.

Old restrictions are now being eased.

In the future, Taiwan yacht builders could see a surge in new orders much closer to home.



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