by Dana Halawi
BEIRUT, July 7 (Xinhua) -- Mazen Safadi sat in his 30-foot boat in Jounieh Bay, 16 kilometers to the north of Lebanon's capital Beirut, and reminisced about the good times he spent in the sea with his friends before the country was hit by a steep financial crisis in 2019.
"I've spent some of my most memorable moments with friends on this boat, but unfortunately, it's time to give it up," Mazen said.
As a real estate broker, Mazen told Xinhua that he can no longer afford keeping his boat for maintenance and berthing in addition to other expenses.
In the 2000s, Lebanon's boats industry saw glamourous times. The booming sector prompted the International Fairs and Promotions Group, a leading organizer of trade events in the Middle East and North Africa region, to host a yearly Beirut Boat Show since 2001. The successful show attracted tens of thousands of visitors and buyers from foreign and local markets.
Back then, the country's ports were teeming with tourist boats and private yachts. Beirut Marina's administration had to expand its harbor and create a second harbor to accommodate the new boats, after the Zaitunay Bay became too crowded.
However, the scene is completely different today. The Beirut Marina is half empty, let alone the other 14 marinas spreading across the country.
Since 2019, the boat market has certainly witnessed a downturn with a great number of Lebanese seeking to sell their boats at a price lower than their real value to Turkish nationals, who were looking for good deals amid the current financial crisis and shortage of foreign currency in the country.
Ali Nehme, vice president of the Syndicate of Yachting Navigators, told Xinhua that since 2019, Turkish nationals have bought more than 150 yachts with sizes ranging from 20 to 25 meters and prices varying between 50,000 U.S. dollars to 3 million U.S. dollars based on the specifications of each yacht.
Turks have a huge demand for boats for its long coastline and thousands of marinas, and "Lebanese had to sell some of their assets, including boats, in exchange for dollars and survive in Lebanon, because their money got stuck in banks after the financial crisis and they had to face an unprecedented increase in inflation," he said.
The cost of owning boats for the Lebanese has become huge. As for boats with a size of less than 15 meters, they are required to pay between 15 to 33 percent in custom duties in addition to the value-added tax of 11 percent, Nehme noted.
In addition, all Lebanese boat owners must pay mechanic fees once a year ranging between 225,000 (8 U.S. dollars) and 850,000 Lebanese pounds, depending on the horsepower, as well as renewing the navigation and touring license and the inspection record.
Moreover, regular maintenance is mandatory for all yachts, and the cost varies from 2,000 U.S. dollars for a 10-meter yacht, up to 30,000 U.S. dollars for a 30-meter yacht.
As for the yacht berthing fees, they are paid according to the length of the yacht and the cost for a 10-meter yacht before 2019 was about 8,000 U.S. dollars yearly while it currently costs around 5,500 U.S. dollars in an attempt to encourage people to keep their boats, Nehme said.
Nehme noted that salaries of the captain and marine crew are also additional expenses which vary depending on the length of the yacht, with some yachts requiring a captain to lead it in addition to assistants.
For his part, Mohamad Chehab, owner of Chehab Marine, a company that offers maintenance for boats and Yachts, told Xinhua that his company can no longer make enough money to pay employees' salaries as the existing small boats require only simple maintenance work.
Meanwhile, Elie Sawaya, who used to own a company that sells boats, told Xinhua he had to shut down his business in 2019 since people were no longer able to pay for the maintenance of their boats, which requires cash dollars for spare parts.