By Fabiana Maccarini, Ph.D.

The passion and culture for boating in UAE is becoming more and more significant, as well as an important profitable business for the region. Many marina projects are presently under development in UAE and, only in Dubai, there are 1,886 existing operating wet berths and 2,500 upcoming berths planned along Dubai coastline, Dubai offshore artificial islands and Dubai water canal.

To enhance the UAE’s competitiveness to become one of the globe’s most important maritime hub, the UAE Government is making a significant effort to create a ‘boating-friendly’ country, facilitating the cooperation of different involved Authorities in the maritime licencing. In February 2017, the Federal Transport Authority (FTA) and Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) signed an important agreement in support of the integration of the UAE’s federal and local government entities. As mentioned in the joint statement, “scope of the agreement is to establish common regulations for promoting the maritime licensing system according to the highest international standards in order to help reinforcing the status of Dubai and the rest of the UAE among the world’s most prominent maritime and logistical centres”, and “make the country one of the world’s vital maritime hubs”.

To further promote their partnership, both parties have agreed to jointly organize the procedures and facilitate the registration, licensing and renewing of marine crafts in Dubai by establishing a single window system for maritime licensing handled by DMCA. Moreover, the two sides expressed their commitment to jointly organize relevant conferences and workshops as well as represent the UAE in international and regional conferences to exchange experiences, expertise, and knowledge with global participants.

Although this new procedure is presently applicable only to the Emirate of Dubai, it is a first important step toward the alignment of marine regulation of UAE.

Superyachts visiting UAE             

Superyacht industry is a niche market and foreign superyachts are more and more attracted by UAE luxury’s destinations, with beautiful coasts and landscape attractions. The Country can become a successful destination stop on the superyacht cruising circuits and, most important, offer in the winter season an alternative wintering homeport to the popular established destinations (Caribbean). Owners and especially Captains will select UAE and Gulf Region as their preferred wintering homeport only if they will find a “yachting friendly” environment and high-level facilities.

 Despite the many marina projects upcoming in Dubai, which include superyachts berths and facilities, there are still important aspects to be solved to improve accessibility of foreign-flagged superyachts to Dubai and the UAE. Rules for navigation permit in UAE very often conflict with residence concessions on yachts. At present, foreign-flagged superyachts are granted to stay 21 days in UAE from the day of their first entry. In case of extension, if the yachts want to cruise in UAE waters, they will need to obtain ‘mission visa’ or ‘UAE resident visa’ for the crew on board, through a process that takes time and originally designed for commercial ships/cargo rather than superyachts, which expect more flexibility.

Furthermore, the permitted length of stay depends on nationality of yacht owners and crew. In Dubai, Dubai Maritime City Authority issues a renewable 90 days cruising permit for visiting foreign-flagged yachts, without necessity to obtain visas for their crew. However, this procedure is not federal and is applicable only to the Emirate of Dubai.

Therefore, yachts will face the same problems if they want to sail out of the Dubai waters and through the other Emirates. In certain Emirates, yachts needs to go to commercial ports for inward immigration clearance formalities, and foreign-flagged yachts must clear in and out of every Emirate, with different rules and regulations, which is very time consuming and not ‘attractive’ for yachting traffic.

United Arab Emirates and Emirati Riviera

Ideally, in an “Emirati Riviera” within the United Arab Emirates, yachts should be allowed to sail from one marina to another among the Emirates.  A designated port agent should carry out the clearance formalities at respective immigration, and, as occurring in most countries, yachts crew should be cleared in on arrival and be given “Crew Shore Pass Cards” by immigration to allow them to go ashore.

The simplification of cruising permits, visa procedures and, most important, the alignment of the maritime licensing and sailing system among the Emirates, will definitely incentive the local yachting industry, and will attract the international superyacht traffic already fascinated by the UAE luxury developments, high-end facilities and established marine culture.