Dubai: In an attempt to breathe life back into the dwindling dhow industry, two Emirati brothers have taken up the challenge to build the largest Arab dhow that serves not only to transport cargo but to act as reminder to the country’s deep-rooted traditions.
For centuries, dhows sailed across the Arabian and Indian seas, enabling sailors to earn their daily bread either through fishing, pearl diving or by transporting cargo mostly from the Indian sub-continent and East Africa into the Gulf States.
The first setback to dhows was when the worldwide economic depression in the 1930s caused the pearling industry in the region to nosedive. But even though the local economy was able to boom again following the discovery of oil as well as with the shift in focus on the tourism industry, the use of dhows slowly lost its stronghold in the maritime industry.
“Dhows are not as popular as they used to be 40 years ago and there are now only four families in Dubai that build them, and my family is one of them,” said Huraiz Bin Touq Al Merri, 39.
Coming from a line of boat aficionados, Al Merri pointed out that his grandfather Mohammad used to build dhows, while his father was a captain of a cargo ship and at one point used to command 100 dhows.
“Although I worked in the army, building boats was a passion close to my heart and I have already built several modern boats made of fibreglass. In 2008, the economic crisis affected business all around the world and construction stopped here. With this in mind, I thought that it would then be the best time to boost the local economy and build the largest dhow in the country,” said Al Merri, who financed the project with several partners, including his brother Salah who is a retired navy man.
The brothers decided to call the boat Fazza, which means to help someone in times of need, after the nickname of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai.
“I called him for permission to use the name and he was very eager to see the end result because a dhow in such a large magnitude has never been built before in the Gulf,” said Al Merri, who emphasised that even though the dhow will be completed by September, it will take at least another four months to decorate and paint it.
“I’m already making plans for the ship’s inauguration and Shaikh Hamdan has confirmed that he wants to see it, and there will certainly be a big party to celebrate the event.”
Having such a responsibility of overseeing the project was no easy task and Al Merri, along with his brother, are on site everyday without fail from 6am to 12pm and 2 to 7pm to supervise the boat’s 11 workers.
Once the dhow is completed, Al Merri aims to use it to transport second-hand Japanese cars to Ethiopia via Somalia in a journey that will take about 10 days to complete as it travels at a speed of 10-12 knots.
“There are at least 60 million people living in Ethiopia and that is the main route that traders are using, its either that or to go to Iran. The dhow will then stop at Somalia and transport the cargo by land. I am not worried at all about the ship encountering any pirates because I know that the situation is exaggerated so people can claim insurance,” he added.