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Recovering an underwater forest of lost teak

A new paradigm for yacht builders…

Thirty years ago, Bob Steber, managing director at Ginnacle Import - Export Pte Ltd., initiated a project in Burma that recovered 2,000 teak logs and 500 rosewood logs from the depths of the Rangoon River. With new equipment, Steber believes that he can now undertake an even more successful recovery than the original project, and is even in conversation with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) about the log-recovery process being provided with FSC certification, as well as a superyacht designer who wishes to include the recovered produce in his designs.

According to Steber, for 200 years, teak logs have been transported by raft through rivers, for example, from the Northern Forests to Rangoon. The logs have then been exported worldwide to various industries, including yacht builders. However, during transportation, these rafts would occasionally encounter strong winds, especially during monsoon season.

“The rafts would then hit the riverbank, and some teak logs would break free and sink to the bottom of the river,” explains Steber. “To find these logs we use a special sonar that can show exactly where logs are, even in the very muddy waters of the Chindwin or Irrawaddy Rivers. Coordinates are taken using GPS, and a map is then made showing where each log is. Our divers, with wet suits and oxygen tanks, then jump in, locate the log by feeling it according to the coordinates, and secure a chain to the log.” 

“We like to say that we are recovering a forest of teak without cutting a single tree..." - Bob Steber, managing director, Ginnacle Import - Export Pte Ltd.

The diver then comes aboard the recovery boat and the log is winched up carefully. “When the log breaks the surface it’s a joy to see a valuable treasure of nature recovered after being forgotten for decades. The log is then marked and taken to the nearest Myanmar Government timber depot,” adds Steber. “We like to say that we are recovering a forest of teak without cutting a single tree. No smoke-belching yellow monsters are needed to make roads and damage the pristine natural forests. Thousands of acres of natural forests will be saved.” 

The desirability of this product, due to the more environmentally-conscious approach of its sourcing, has piqued the interest of superyacht designer Donald Starkey. Steber met Starkey about 12 years ago and made him aware of his recovery project.

“[At the time], Steber was working on and pursuing government approval to recover teak logs, which is now in effect,” explains Starkey. “Naturally, the use of recovered logs is a sensible way to allow teak, which is now - like some animals - regarded as an endangered species due to past deforestation and over-use, to re-generate natural animal habitats.

“Naturally, the use of recovered logs is a sensible way to allow teak, which is now - like some animals - regarded as an endangered species due to past deforestation and over-use, to re-generate natural animal habitats" - Donald Starkey

“I believe the use of high-quality teak will be restricted unless it is approved/certified as recovered. There are already alternatives to teak for decking being developed, as well as some faux non-wood finishes. For the larger superyachts, there will continue to be a preference for good quality, natural teak, and that will sustain the market for recoverable logs.”

Another important aspect of this project is that 50 per cent of the value of the recovered logs will go to the Myanmar Government and is intended to be used for local hospitals, schools and infrastructure projects, although the precedent for altruistic government projects in the country is limited at best.

“This project will create a demand for environmentally-good teak that saves,” concludes Steber. "As one yacht designer told me - this is a new paradigm for yacht builders. This is the very first environmentally-positive project, and many environmentally-conscious yacht builders will be rushing to secure this recovered gift of nature for boaters.”

Image courtesy of  teak.net 

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