The 70 metre superyacht Felix which berthed at the Coral Sea Marina last year.
The 70 metre superyacht Felix which berthed at the Coral Sea Marina last year. PETER CARRUTHERS

State-of-the-art marine facility back on cards for Bowen

A VISION for Bowen to become a superyacht service destination has scored a major victory, with new legislation allowing foreign charter superyachts to more easily enter Australian waters.

A world-class Marine Centre of Excellence at the second basin of the Bowen Marina has been on the wish list of many in the community, however a prohibitive tax on the entry of the multimillion-dollar vessels has meant the business case didn't stack up, until now.

Last week the Federal Government passed the Special Recreational Vessels Bill, allowing foreign charter superyachts to enter Australian waters under a temporary Coastal Trading Licence.

The Bill allows foreign vessels to apply for the special recreational licence without having to pay the duties associated with an imported vessel, which for some boats added up to millions of dollars.

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox said he welcomed the announcement and the potential return it had, not just for Bowen but the whole Whitsunday region.

He said $350,000 put aside in the 2018/19 council budget for the development of a Marine Centre of Excellence business case would now be used to continue the initial groundwork.

The business case would help the council identify all considerations before making the project 'shovel ready', but Cr Willcox was confident it would tick the boxes and become a reality.

"Now it's a case of getting our feet back on the ground for this project," he said.

"We'll be in contact with the State Government to extend our period of exclusivity for the location.

"It expired early this year as we had no idea how long this process would take.

"Then it's a case of talking with private investors again, as well as current stakeholders at the marina and looking at the next steps."

He said the Marine Centre of Excellence would be a 'game-changer' for Bowen and provide high value jobs to the region.

The service centre could also be used to maintain larger tourism vessels and ferries from around the Whitsundays, as well as the superyacht market.

"There's a lot of hurdles still, but through a lot of lobbying from myself, and especially (Member for Dawson) George Christensen, this bill has passed and it's time to pursue this project forward," he said.

Mr Christensen said he had been pushing hard in parliament for the introduction of the Special Recreational Vessels Bill which 'will put Australia on a level playing field' with other destinations, such as Fiji and New Zealand.

He said there was a checklist needed to 'unlock' the Whitsundays for superyacht investment, and the passing of the bill was one item ticked off.

He said each week a superyacht is berthed it brings around $60,000 to the local economy, with areas like Noumea currently enjoying 200 weeks of berth time a year.

He said it was expected the Whitsundays would receive similar, or larger, numbers of superyachts.

"In regards to Bowen, it's a matter of waiting to see how many vessels we have come to the region, but if as many come as expected there will definitely be a need for an excellent service centre," Mr Christensen said.

"We're confident of what these changes trigger, and if there's the opportunity to capitalise and throw the resources behind a facility in Bowen, we will, as it is perfectly located.

"These would be long term, skilled jobs."

Superyachts are identified in Australia as a vessel with a master and crew carrying 12 guests or fewer, no cargo, and greater than or equal to 24m in length.

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