Wealthy Hong Kong residents are rushing to sell or ship their yachts and luxury cars out of the Chinese territory as the city braces itself for ever more draconian Covid-19 restrictions.
Specialised shipping and brokering firms told the Financial Times that inquiries and bookings had risen significantly recently as boat and car owners, many of them expats, made plans to flee the city.
Fifty-three cars were shipped by just one firm from Hong Kong to the UK last month, with another 47 booked for the first few weeks of March. That was about double the number of cars shipped in the same period last year, according to Jack Charlesworth, managing director of My Car Import.
“Feedback from customers . . . [showed that] the latest Covid rules [in Hong Kong] are a major contributing factor to the increase in demand,” Charlesworth told the FT.
Kingsley Read, director of ShipMyCar, said his company had also recorded a jump in bookings from Hong Kong clients transporting their cars, including a Ferrari and a Rolls-Royce, to the UK.
Yacht shipping firms have reported a similar increase in business. “Last year, we saw only a few [yachts] leaving,” said Charles Massey, of Sevenstar Yacht Transport. “[But since mid-February] there have been a lot more inquiries about leaving Hong Kong, heading for Phuket, for Singapore, for Europe.”
Sevenstar said it was moving at least five yachts out of the city in March alone, and was still dealing with a handful of other inquiries. Massey said several owners of superyachts were also looking to get their boats out of Hong Kong over the next few months.
Fewer than 10 yachts were transported out of the city by the company last year, Massey said, adding that shipping a large yacht could cost between $200,000 and $1mn.
“It [is] very difficult for people to actually live normal lives [in Hong Kong]. People will seek to get out,” he said.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have left or are considering leaving after authorities imposed stringent Covid measures that include a flight ban from nine countries, the closure of all sporting facilities and public beaches, and a ban on multi-household gatherings in homes and even on yachts.
The threat of mass testing and forced quarantine in a government facility has created even greater impetus to leave.
In February, Hong Kong recorded a net loss of 65,295 residents, and another 40,920 as of mid-March.
According to estate agents, the price of properties in a district popular among expats fell about 5 per cent in the past month.
On Thursday, the city surpassed 980,000 infections after the fifth Covid-19 wave struck in December. In almost two years before that, Hong Kong recorded only about 12,600 cases.
The number of yachts being put up for sale has risen by between 20 and 30 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to Baggy Sartape, chief executive of Asia Boating Limited.
Eric Noyel, chief executive of yacht broker Asiamarine, said: “We do have more inquiries from people in Hong Kong [about selling their boats] because either they are leaving Hong Kong or they can’t see when they will be able to use their boats.”
But not all yacht owners are abandoning the city for good. “It looks likely we will go for a few months to Europe until things settle,” said the German owner of a 65-foot boat who has lived in the city for 26 years. “Then we will come back.”
Additional reporting by Primrose Riordan in Hong Kong