Gulf cleanup turns `tin' to gold

August 2010 News

Oil cripples the fiberglass boat market, but 'opportunity' is huge for aluminum vessels

With the Deepwater Horizon oil leak still not fully capped, a cloud of dashed expectations hung over boat dealers in southeast Louisiana in mid-July. But as tricked-out fiberglass fishboats gathered dust in showrooms, demand for aluminum boats for the BP oil cleanup was exploding.

"It has been totally overwhelming," says Bruce Stone, co-owner of Lobell's Custom Boats, a small aluminum-boat manufacturer in Prairieville, La. He has fielded an avalanche of phone calls for his boats to work as "vessels of opportunity" in the Gulf of Mexico oil cleanup. One boom company, U.S. Containment Boom, was advertising on the Internet for 100 boats - aluminum only - for rent, sale or hire in Mississippi and Alabama for deploying booms.


"We had one call from someone who wanted to buy 50 30-foot barges," says Stone, whose company builds rugged welded-aluminum cabin, utility and barge boats. "We've had multiple calls for 50 or more boats." The boats have to be aluminum, which Stone can deliver, but the callers also want the vessels "right now." He can't perform miracles. "We have the capability to build maybe five or six boats at a time," he says. As soon as the callers hear that he doesn't have 50 in stock, they hang up. "I think they must be speculators," he says. Or contractors.

"The [recreational] fiberglass business is on its back," Stone says. "People can't take their boats down to the Gulf. They're afraid to go there because of the oil."

So they aren't buying.


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