Mohammed Hussein Alshaali had a flourishing diplomatic career. The Emirati statesman had already landed career-defining ambassadorial roles to Washington, Geneva and even the United Nations. But it was a very different tide – that of the maritime industry – which would pull this son of a sea captain into a passion project, that would not only build up an entire country’s shipbuilding industry, but would also rise to become a world-class yacht builder in only a few decades.
Back in the late Seventies and early Eighties, when the UAE was just over a decade old, Alshaali, who loved sailing and was posted on stints abroad, purchased a Wellcraft fishing boat from the US and quickly realised the prohibitive costs associated with shipping boats to the UAE. It was all the impetus he needed, along with his brother, to set up their own shipbuilding business – Gulf Craft – in the UAE. “When we launched Gulf Craft in 1982, there was no marine infrastructure or skilled labour force available in the UAE. We were not able to turn to local suppliers for support,” explains Alshaali, founder and chairman of Gulf Craft, recalling the early days in the business.
“Our shipyard is vertically integrated, which means that we manufacture almost all components of our products in-house, with the exception of major machinery. This was borne out of necessity, but became one of our greatest assets as it has allowed us to control each level of our manufacturing process and assure an optimum level of quality.”
Back then, Gulf Craft began with a 218,000-square-foot facility in Ajman where it initially produced 14-foot runabouts for the local market. In 1992, Gulf Craft began to flex its muscle in the luxury yacht market when it launched the Adora 53 motor yacht, and subsequently collaborated with reputed names in the industry including Massimo Gregory to build 77- and 82-foot motoryachts.
Apart from collaborating with external specialists, Gulf Craft parallelly worked on developing its in-house design team. “The Gulf Craft in-house teams are responsible for everything from concept creation, design, engineering, to final production. Apart from major equipment like engines, generators and other machinery, our products are wholly created by us,” says Alshaali.
To understand its scale, consider that today it operates four manufacturing facilities including one in Ajman, a 100,000-square-foot facility in the Maldives and a 462,000-square-foot facility in Umm Al Quwain, the latter of which includes two launching bays.
In 2001, Gulf Craft reached a new milestone with the debut of its first superyacht over 30 metres, the Millennium 118. According to data made available at the start of last year by The Superyacht Agency, Gulf Craft reportedly delivered over 50 30-metre-plus superyachts, at an average rate of 2.8 deliveries per year. Since 2012, it has averaged 5.9 vessels per year, peaking at eight deliveries in 2017.
Last year’s pandemic did throw a gigantic spanner in the works for the manufacturer. “At one point, the global supply chain ceased completely, making it very difficult to receive materials from overseas. Reduced manpower due to social distancing continues to be a challenge,” says Alshaali. “But our operations team worked tirelessly to keep the shipyard up and running throughout the year and successfully delivered two superyachts at the height of the pandemic.”
Demonstrating further resilience, its 53-metre Majesty 175 megayacht completed its maiden sea trial in January this year. The Majesty 175 – along with the Majesty 200 – were announced at the 2016 Monaco Boat Show and it took four years of research and development for the 175 to get here. And arrived it has. “The Majesty 175 is the largest composite production yacht ever built, at 780 gross tons. She redefines the industry’s expectations on what can be achieved using advanced composite materials,” offers Alshaali about the yacht built with carbon fibre and vinylester.
Italy’s Cristiano Gatto Design Studio worked on the interior and exterior design of the 175. It includes seven staterooms and a crew of up to 10 members, with six crew cabins and a private captain accommodation. The star feature though is a 5-metre infinity pool at the forward deck and a hybrid sky-lounge which can be converted into an open sun deck. Massimo Gregory was responsible for the naval architecture of this vessel, which features two fixed-pitch six-blade propellers, twin MTU 12V 4000 M63 engines, each of which are 1,500kW units, and which together allow the vessel to cruise at a top speed of 17 knots. The boat is expected to be ready for delivery this spring, and is already sold to a “prominent UAE businessman”.
Gulf Craft primarily sells under four different brand names – Majesty Yachts which was launched in 2003 and is its superyachts division; Oryx followed in 2006 and offered sports yachts and open cruisers; SilverCraft, first unveiled in 2008, showcases affordable smaller family and fishing boats; and the most recent addition of Nomad in 2015 which throws up options within the long-range adventure cruising space. “Gulf Craft is unique in that we build boats and yachts from 31-foot for fishing for family use, going up to 175-foot mega yachts, and everything in between,” says Alshaali, while adding, “We are very proud to have built over 10,000 boats to date.”
While the ability of Gulf Craft to compete against global shipyards is undeniable, it has, over the last decade, pushed forward an aggressive expansion strategy into international markets including Australia, Southeast Asia, and the Mediterranean. In 2019, it made a dedicated push into perhaps the most important market of all – the US. The Majesty 140 with which it made its entry at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, won the ‘Best in Show’, vindicating its reputation.
The next generation is being groomed to take the reins. Abeer Alshaali, who also is a board member of the Ajman Media City Free Zone, was recently appointed as the deputy managing director. Gulf Craft is a family business, but the position wasn’t handed to her on a platter. She first served as an executive management officer, subsequently rising up the ranks. “Abeer has been a part of the Gulf Craft family since her childhood. Boating is in her blood and she is fully prepared to fulfil my vision for the company’s future,” says Mohammed.
One of Abeer’s pressing priorities would be to open the European markets to the Nomad and Oryx brands. There will also expectedly be a push towards more environmentally sustainable practices in shipbuilding – the solar-powered Nomad 65 is a step in that direction. “We continue to introduce technologies such as solar energy and electric propulsion, and are committed to focusing on sustainability. We have introduced advanced materials in our production including adding materials such as Kevlar and carbon fibre to our building process,” says Alshaali.
While Gulf Craft has already conquered a milestone with the Majesty 175, there’s a fevered anticipation growing about what the 61-metre Majesty 200 might hold in store.
This article was originally published by Gulf Business.
Feature image: Supplied