Six in eight months from composites manufacturer Oliver Dawson. More in the pipeline.

A plan to up-skill ex militants from Nigeria has turned into a potential boat-building bonanza for Cape Town’s Oliver Dawson, who has thus far built five ferries for the Lagos State government and has potential orders for several more.

Composites manufacturing expert Dawson is currently managing his yard inside the Nautic Africa facility in Paarden Island where he employs around 30 people. He is also using the ferry project as a skills training initiative to develop students within the industry. The deal was facilitated by SABBEX executive head Vanessa Davidson, who fielded the initial approach from well-known Nigerian businessman eight years ago.

Mould construction began in April, and the first four boats were complete by the end of November – a rapid turnaround made possible by a dedicated team, Dawson told SABBEX.

“The original project was that we would train up ex-militants on how to build boats,” Dawson said.

“We have the ability to produce one of these boats every four to six weeks – at the moment the turnaround time is one every eight weeks,” he said.

Dawson, who is driving the project said the initial phase was not without the usual administrative hiccups, which had caused some minor contractual delays. However these issues had been addressed and things were back on track.

The boats are a relatively lightweight, maneuverable, multi-purpose design, featuring double raking floors and a water-tight bottom compartment to address safety concerns. “From a commercial ferry perspective we are 100% happy that it’s a safe boat. It is quite standard, no bells and whistles,” Dawson said. “All our materials are locally sourced, resin from Durban and all our reinforcements from Paarl. The foam is imported but as a percentage it is fairly small.”

He said an attractive build price was key to landing the deal, which he hoped would serve as springboard for a much larger manufacturing operation, potentially on a par with the volumes seen down the road at  Robertson & Caine.

Explained Dawson: “I think it’s because we priced the thing fairly and are not out to rip anybody off. There are no shortcuts, no quick turnaround cash. If we can make x amount off each boat and fill ten build spots a year I’m happy — that is where we are doing things slightly differently.”

“We are happy with a lower margin.” 

Dawson believes the ferry is suited to other maritime sectors, such as tourism and shark cage diving.  With the necessary building blocks and marketing strategy in place the company hopes to upscale production with a view to becoming a global player – if all goes according to plan that is, and the market plays its part. “The whole project for us was always an opportunity for us to test our recipe and I think we have worked out what that is. I am sure there will be some curve balls coming, but for now things are positive,” Dawson said.

Increased production would also allow for bigger training opportunities and potentially more stakeholder support in the form of training budget. “We have formally trained 110 people in the last few months on this project and some of them have gone on to find work in other boat building companies,” he said.  “I have an amazing team of guys and girls that come from various companies and without them it wouldn’t have been possible”.

See the full ferry specifications sheet HERE

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