After the last boat registration issue was resolved several months ago, the Sri Lankan Aggressor (SLA) yacht finally launched with several successful whale charters. Two new areas were identified with large blue whale aggregations due the Sri Lanka Aggressor’s ability to travel hundreds of nautical miles over a seven-day charter trip.
However, a new dispute has now arisen over crew competence. The Sri Lanka Aggressor crew is manned by Egyptian and other foreign crew, each with five to 10 years of experience and certification in specialised live-aboard deep sea scuba diving and tourism operations from Egypt, the Maldives and other locations where large 500 to 1,000 yacht fleets operate.
The Merchant Shipping Secretariat does not recognise selected SLA crew and captain certifications and will only accept crew with standard certification needed to man international cargo ships, tankers and freight container ships.
The SLA yacht deliberately hired 40% Sri Lankans initially and has started to train those local crew with the goal to have a fully-trained Sri Lankan crew within several years. However the two sides are currently deadlocked; if Merchant Shipping is unwilling to recognise the current specialised and experienced crew, the boat cannot be manned and sailed by a Sri Lankan crew and captain with zero experience in deep scuba sea diving and tourism operations.
An example of the problem is the Merchant Shipping Secretariat has not been able to even help secure one five-star Sri Lankan chef for the yacht since its arrival in September as in their own words, despite Sri Lanka having an overabundance of five-star restaurant chefs on the island, none of them have the certification the Merchant Shipping Secretariat requires to allow them on either the SLA yacht or the last cruise ship that docked in Colombo that was also desperate for chefs and kitchen staff.
Currently the yacht is down for three weeks of maintenance and repair after an initial experiment with a Sri Lankan captain with no passenger experience caused damage to one side of the yacht. TVB Group management hopes that a settlement can be found in the coming week so there will be no disruption to fully-booked charters beginning again on 28 January.
The Sri Lankan Aggressor Yacht is just the first of what could be a 50-yacht fleet established in Sri Lanka over the next five to 10 years by local Sri Lankan businessmen similar to the tourist fleets in Egypt, the Maldives and Thailand, that could generate up to 500,000 new hotel room nights, hundreds of domestic charter flights, over half a billion dollars in new tourism revenues per annum and thousands of new tourism-related jobs for Sri Lanka.