Egypt’s Mediterranean city gains global fame in shipbuilding

In Egypt’s northern coastal city of Ezbet al-Borg, where the Nile River meets the Mediterranean Sea, dozens of workers were busy putting the final touches on a luxurious tourist boat before exporting it to Cyprus.

The city, located in Damietta Governorate, some 190 km north of the capital Cairo, has been leading shipbuilding in the North African country for decades.

Once you step into the workshops’ area along the Nile, hundreds of under-construction boats and ships can be seen lined up with dozens of skilled laborers making up an anatomy of collaboration similar to an anthill or a beehive.

“This fancy yacht will sail to its owner in Cyprus in days … it took us six months to build it,” Ahmed al-Etreby, owner of a shipbuilding workshop in the city, told Xinhua.

Inheriting the trade from his forebears, the man in his middle years highlighted shipbuilding as a time-honored industry deeply rooted in Egypt’s history, with Ezbet al-Borg standing out of Egypt’s shipbuilding cities as the prime hub.

He revealed that the city is home to tens of workshops that build fishing and tourist boats of various kinds and sizes, in addition to medium-sized cargo and oil ships, noting that they also do ship repair and maintenance work.

In addition to building fishing boats for local fishermen, Al-Etreby said the workshops also make tourist yachts of all sizes for exports to countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Sudan, and many other countries.

“Most of the ships built here are made of fiber-coated wood, fiberglass, and steel, but buyers prefer those made of fiber-coated wood because they are cheaper and easier to repair,” al-Etreby said.

He explained that creating a ship involves a series of steps. It begins with designing the ship’s structure and crafting the frame from iron or wood. After that, the ship’s body is constructed, followed by the installation of the engine and tanks. The process continues with painting, setting up internal equipment, installing electrical systems, and concludes with testing work.

“Our skilled workers and the experience we have gained throughout history granted us a global position in shipbuilding … ships, yachts and boats made in Ezbet al-Borg have set sail in oceans and seas around the globe,” al-Etreby proudly said as he carefully watched his workers testing the boat’s electric network.

Al-Etreby noted that shipbuilding is almost available in all Egyptian coastal cities, “but Ezbet al-Borg is unique for its high-standard manufacturing skills and successful marketing methods.”

“The industry brings in foreign currencies that would back the national economy,” he said.

Not far away from al-Etreby’s workshop, Mohammed Abu-Ataia, owner of another shipyard, was giving instructions to his workers who just started to build a new 36-meter-long steel fishing vessel.

“Ezbet al-Borg can compete with European countries, although the workshops here still adopt some traditional manual methods,” Abu-Ataia said.

Abu-Ataia, whose family has been in this trade for decades, pointed out that the local shipbuilding industry is advancing and expanding. Shipbuilders are embracing new technologies, driving progress in the industry.

“The sea is a lifeline for the city’s residents as most of them work in fishing-related jobs such as fishing, shipbuilding, and fish trade, which made the unemployment rate here close to zero,” Abu-Ataia said, noting that Ezbet al-Borg has the largest fishing fleet in Egypt, with thousands of fishermen working in the industry.

The 46-year-old man also expected the whole industry in Egypt will develop further as the country is working to localize and modernize the industry of shipbuilding.

In recent years, the Egyptian government has been exerting efforts to develop shipbuilding and ship repair capabilities, including investing in new infrastructure and attracting foreign investment.

Meanwhile, Abu-Ataia said the business has slumped over the past two years due to the global economic recession, adding that the demand has declined because of the price hikes in raw materials used in the industry.

“Like many other industries, we face challenges. However, the industry is expected to continue to grow,” Abu-Ataia said. “We will keep making ships and boats for local use and exportation as well. We will also help the government modernize and develop its ship fleet,” he added. ■

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