Port Manatee Looks to Diversify Offerings

Todays News

Photo courtesy Port Manatee: FMT unloads yachts shipped in from China and headed to MarineMax

A shipment of yachts from China floated into Port Manatee this month. It’s a rare occurrence involving pleasure boating in a largely industrial seaport, but one Port Executive Director Carlos Buqueras hopes to see more often.

“If it floats, we are going after it,” Buqueras said. “We can do it simply because we have land next to the water.”

On Aug. 7, the port received a shipment of 14 Aquila catamarans, measuring 54 feet each, that were bound for Clearwater-based MarineMax locations in Florida, Georgia, New York and the British Virgin Islands. The yachts originated in the Port of Changshu in China. Federal Marine Terminals offloaded the ships from a supercontainer once they arrived at the Palmetto Port.

“FMT is very pleased to have worked collaboratively with Port Manatee in the safe and successful discharge of this high-value cargo on board Fednav’s Federal Baltic,” said Matthew McPhail, vice president of sales and marketing at Federal Marine Terminals. “This successful operation of the Fednav Asia service to North America continues to reflect the seamless and fully integrated service Fednav Ltd. offers its customers.”

The event served of significance to the port in that it showed an ability to handle pleasure boating company needs just as the port aims to expand yacht repair and remodels at one of its berths. Buqueras envisions superyachts from the world’s billionaires making their way into Manatee waters for refurbishes and aesthetic upgrades, all work that’s typically done without dry-docking vessels. Such yachts often make annual sojourns to the Mediterranean for the summer and the Caribbean in the winter.

From a port perspective, this would create a chance to bring yacht work most often occurring on Florida’s east coast ports and make room near Tampa Bay. It’s one that could provide plenty of work for luxury purveyors in the Sarasota-Manatee region and get the community on the radar of the world’s leading industrialists.

“It’s another diversification, and they (yacht owners) hire a lot of skilled tradesmen and pay very well,” he said. “That’s another opportunity for companies outside our fence.”

Then there’s the ultimate transformation to a consumer travel port. Buqueras has experience from his days leading Port Everglades in attracting some cruising to a typically logistics-driven seaport and would like to do the same in Palmetto. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic’s outsized impact on the cruise industry, Buqueras said the port was on track to open a small cruise terminal in the last year. He’d  still like to do so.

Port Manatee likely wouldn’t start with one of the mega-cruise ships docking in the Port of Tampa, but he could see day cruises with party decks, pools and casinos leaving from Manatee County and into international waters. He’d also like to bring online some transportation-oriented ferries, no-frills ships that can move people across the water at up to 35 knots compared to a cruiseliner top speed of 16 knots.

Photo courtesy Port Manatee: FMT unloads yachts shipped in from China and headed to MarineMax

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