Superyacht deal worth millions

By Mike Barrington

Whangarei marine servicing industry executives and community leaders are ecstatic that billionaire Graeme Hart has brought his unfinished 77-metre superyacht north for work expected to bring millions of dollars into the city.

The move by the Auckland-based businessman - the wealthiest New Zealand resident on the NBR Rich List last year with an estimated $6 billion fortune - reverses the dismay felt when Whangarei missed out on a similar deal in 2011.

At that time construction of the superyacht had run into problems in Chile and when the shell was brought to New Zealand for completion there were hopes $50 million worth of work would be done on it at Port Nikau in Whangarei.

That proposal fell through and the craft, known simply as U77, languished in Auckland for about 18 months until Thomson Towboats hauled it up to Whangarei on Thursday.

Yesterday it was moored near the Ship Repair yard where the billionaire's previously biggest boat, the 51m Ulysses, which cost $85 million when built in 2003, was on the slip for what company official Nick Eilering said were "minor repairs and some antifoul on its backside".

But his lips, and those of all other city maritime industry bosses, had been sealed on the future of the big newcomer. The owner's agents had demanded confidentiality and industry chiefs were anxious to comply so Mr Hart, who guards his privacy, didn't dash the city's hopes a second time.

The most silent of the businessmen was Culham Engineering director Shane Culham, who others praised for luring Mr Hart back to Whangarei.

Whangarei District Council representative Brian McLachlan, whose Okara ward includes the city port area, said dredging carried out so Culham Engineering could offer berthage to the U77 had been the "carrot" which brought the billionaire back.

"It's a feather in the cap of Shane Culham," Mr McLachlan said. "Fitting out that boat could take two years. The work will be worth millions of dollars and the good job our local companies will do should bring more superyacht business to the city."

One marine businessman said that Mr Culham had had men "working like slaves, digging and carting mud" to provide the U77 berth. Another said he "deserves a medal".

While Culham Engineering is expected to work on the vessel, neither it nor other local firms rumoured to have won tenders would confirm they had contracts yesterday.

Northland Regional Council chairman Craig Brown, who was involved in the first failed attempt to have the Hart superyacht fitted out in Whangarei, said city marine businesses had "knuckled down to do the job properly" and succeeded in bringing the work back to the North.

- Northern Advocate

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