ANALYSIS: Boat Builder Expands Into Export Markets

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism.   There are many boat builders in Fiji and many boats are built here. But
01 Aug 2015 11:08
ANALYSIS: Boat Builder Expands Into Export Markets
One of the boats built by Cobra Boats.

John Ross is a Nadi-based marketing and advertising specialist with a long background in tourism.


There are many boat builders in Fiji and many boats are built here.

But one builder, who has a full order book of boats for the Fijian market, has found a reliable market outside Fiji for his products.

Cobra Boats have built up a strong reputation over many years of constructing boats at their facility in Wailoaloa, outside Nadi.

They are specialists in aluminium vessels, mostly built for the resort and professional marine operators.

But they enjoy a significant share of the pleasure boat market as well, with vessels from around eight metres to 18 metres.

They even built a semi-submersible tourist vessel resembling a submarine that was used to show tourists the beauty of the reefs around the Mamanucas.

All the Cobras vessels are designed by a respected New Zealand marine designer, Noah Thompson, and many different designs pass through the Cobra boat yard every year.

Some of the vessels are purpose designed for special tasks such as diving or interisland freight transfers and many of the island passenger transfer vessels wear the Cobra brand.

Cobra owner, Dave Bloxham, is proud that his entire staff are Fijians and some have been with him for a long time.

His head welder is certified to New Zealand standard, and has been training other welders to gain the same certification.

The industry

Mr Bloxam says: “The boat building industry in Fiji has benefitted by the import rules bought in by the Government to protect local companies.

“This assistance has encouraged many to expand their operations and invest in better and more efficient equipment.

“It has also made employment in the industry more attractive, allowing boat builders to employ better trained people.

“But there seems to be little thought to encouraging exports, which are particularly viable given the Melanesian Spearhead relationship and the export rules between these countries.”


Outside interest

Around two years ago Cobra Boats started to get enquiries from companies and individuals overseas about the possibility of building a vessel for them but for a while it never progressed He even got one order for a number of vessels from Tonga, but the timeline for delivery was too tight and he had to decline.

Then he got a call from Vanuatu from Turtle Reef Resort which operated in Havana Harbour.

The owners had seen some Cobra Boats on a visit to Fiji and admired the workmanship and when they saw a glass bottom boat in Australia that they wanted they immediately thought of having it built in Fiji.

It was a 13.2 metre fly bridge design and there were twelve glass panels in the bottom so that passengers could sit and watch the coral and sea life in comfort.

The boat was powered by twin 115 horsepower Yamaha outboard motors and was fitted with a very effective bow thruster that helped hold the vessel still close to reefs.

It has a good sized bar on board, a refreshment area and seating around the glass bottom

Cobra started to build what they believe is the largest glass bottom boat built in Fiji, and probably even New Zealand.

Just before the boat was ready for delivery Cyclone Pam went through Vanuatu, damaging everything in its path.

Turtle Reef Resort was badly hit, but they still took the boat and plan to build infrastructure in the other side of Havana Harbor to operate from.

Next in line was a specialised commercial fishing boat for Noumea, a seven-metre monohull. Another order came from Tonga for a 10,I catamaran.

This vessel will operate as a whale watching boat and is equipped diving and snorkeling, as tourists swim with the whales in Tonga.

He now has an order out of Noumea, a 10-metre, central consol dive boat.


Growing export market

When Mr Bloxam entered the export market for vessels, he started a very steep learning curve.

There is clearly a growing export market for Fijian made boats.

Mr Bloxam said: “We feel there is a need for more assistance from the Government departments to help increase the export trade. Cobra will continue to build its markets overseas.”


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