Qeshm has been known for manufacturing of traditional cargo boats called lenge. Lenges have been used for transportation of items in the Gulf for centuries, and the manufacturers accept orders from not only domestic but also foreign owners.
Entering the shipyard is like stepping back into the Old Testament, with a wooden Noah’s Ark standing before you. Situated in the Iranian port of Gouran on Qeshm, the largest island in the Persian Gulf, this is the last place where a traditional wooden cargo boat known as the Lenj is still constructed. In a region dominated by gleaming skyscrapers and soulless modern developments, this practice harks back to an age-old way of life. The Bandari locals here still wear traditional dress, live in houses cooled by badgirs (wind towers) and build boats by hand, plank by plank, without blueprints
Yet continuing this tradition of shipbuilding has not been easy, particularly as the international economic boycott of Iran almost tripled the cost of wood and engines. The owner of the shipyard, Ali Pouzan, an Iranian in his forties who lives in Gouran, hopes for better times after economic and trade sanctions were lifted at the beginning of this year.
A new Lenj will cost between €300,000 and €500,000, depending on its size. Each one takes two years to build, such is the care and detail of the craftsmanship. Different kinds of wood are needed for the various components — tropical teak for the hull, for instance, is imported from Burma, India and Africa as Qeshm is a desert island where no trees grow.
The shipyard’s superintendent is an old man from Gouran, who seems to know where to find any kind of wood in the chaos around the boats. We also meet the master carpenter, Ghafoor Ahmed, currently unable to work because his right eye is infected by a splinter of wood. There is no form of health or income insurance provided for the workers here, nor any union or co-operative to defend their interests or to protect them.
Shipping and shipbuilding are ancient traditions in the Persian Gulf. Qeshm had a strong reputation for trade and navigation long before the introduction of Islam and, in Iran, there are still many Lenj boats being used for fishing, by pearl divers and for trade. Originally, Lenjes were used for long distances (between India and Africa, for example), but now embark on shorter journeys in the Persian Gulf for trade between Dubai and Oman and the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Everything from dates, fish and sheep to electronics and textiles are transported by Lenj.