Lai See
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 3:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 3:04am

Pleasure boat industry is being stifled by government inertia

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

There has been increasing concern over the past few years over the shortage of moorings for private pleasure vessels. Indeed, it is apparent that government intransigence is strangling the local boating industry and stifling Hong Kong's potential to be a thriving boating hub. There are about 18,000 local craft of which about half are categorised as pleasure vessels. Of these, nearly 700 are yachts, about 2,500 are motor boats and junks, and about 4,500 are essentially small speed boats. Many of the latter can be kept on land and don't need moorings.

There are about 2,800 recognised private moorings which exist in private boat clubs and typhoon shelters, which falls a good deal short of the demand. Outside these, there are also a number of designated mooring areas around Hong Kong but according to the Marine Department no more moorings can be laid as a result of objections from "villagers" and other curious brotherhood organisations requiring payment for loss of ancestral fishing rights and so on. Increasingly, boats are anchoring in various bays around the city. The mooring shortage has been exacerbated by the department's ban on subletting and sale of moorings.

This was introduced more than 20 years ago but appears to run counter to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance that regulate moorings. Indeed, the Director of Audit, in a review of the Marine Department's provision of services a year ago, drew attention to the discrepancy between the ordinance and Marine Department practice, suggesting it seek legal advice to rationalise the situation.

However, what has really infuriated the boating industry, which faces an acute shortage of moorings, has been the under-utilisation of typhoon shelters. This year, the Marine Department dropped a bombshell when it said no more private moorings would be laid in typhoon shelters.

The thinking seemed to be that the department was reluctant to allow permanent space to be taken up by private moorings at the expense of space available for working vessels. However, boating industry groups point out that the typhoon shelters are under-utilised even during typhoons. A paper by the Hong Kong Marine Industry Association (HKMIA) points out that between 2008 and 2010 the average utilisation of Causeway Bay typhoon shelter during typhoons was 90 per cent, Kwun Tong 45 per cent, To Kwa Wan 54 per cent, and the occupancy for the huge 76.6 hectare Hei Ling Chau typhoon shelter was 6 per cent.

"If you ask the Marine Department what to do, it will simply say drop an anchor in a typhoon shelter," says David Robinson, who is secretary of the HKMIA and publisher of the boating magazine Fragrant Harbour. The boating industry has its eye on the 33.8 hectare Kwun Tong typhoon shelter, which is unused except during typhoons and which the HKMIA estimates could take nearly 900 sixty-foot boats. "It is enormously frustrating. When we ask if we can drop anchor in Kwun Tong, the people at the Marine Department smile and say 'we can't stop you'."

But such a system would be extremely inefficient. One industry estimate reckons that an additional 2,000 moorings will be taken up within two to three years - many of them by mainlanders. But they point out that most owners spend about 10 per cent of the price of the boat per year for the first eight to 10 years. This would generate a considerable number of jobs in terms of crew and craftsmen, suppliers and providers of services such as insurance.

"There is a need for a public marina for people to keep their boats so that the industry and the sport can develop in Hong Kong," says Robinson. Some consider boating an elitist activity even though many boats cost no more than a second-hand Honda Civic. The government likes to boast about Hong Kong being the place to be - for work and the lifestyle, yet no one is doing anything to promote the boating industry.

There is a crying need for a champion with a vision so that more people can have access to boating in Hong Kong whether in large or small boats without having to join a private club. The Marine Department is not up to the task. It takes the view that its job is not to promote the industry but to provide sufficient typhoon-safe space. Hong Kong is a superb boating and water sports location but the current arrangements are pitiful for what is meant to be Asia's world city.

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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