MICHAEL HOWORTH ASKS WHY SUPERYACHTS SEEM TO END UP ON THE SEA BED RATHER THAN IN A SCRAP YARD LIKE THEIR COMMERCIAL MARINE COUSINS
In all my time at sea, both as a superyacht Captain and as a Navigation officer serving aboard the large passenger ships operated by P&O, there is one day that is forever ingrained on my memory. I was serving as third officer on a beautiful 7,000 ton cargo ship that had been built in 1948. We had been on three month-long around the world voyages carrying general cargo in the days before the container was the box of choice.
That was in 1971 and we had just completed our discharge in Chittagong, now more correctly called Chattogram. It was, and still is, a major port and financial centre in south eastern Bangladesh. Quite convinced we were waiting to load a full cargo of jute for London we were horribly shocked to hear that there would be no new cargo and that our lovely old ship had been sold to a ship breaker’s and our task was to take our grand old lady to the knacker’s yard.
Unbelievably, the yard was located on a beach close by at a place called, and I kid you not: ‘Shit-a-kundu’ and at the allotted time we set off to make the handover. Because we had fuel to spare, our Captain and Chief Engineer decided to see how fast the old girl could still travel. She had, for the past few years used 14 knots as her standard cargo carrying speed and on one occasion, I remember the old girl being cranked upto 17 knots. But as we were headed for the beach at Shit-a-kundu, slowly her speed began to rise. She quickly achieved 17 knots and then crept up to 18 then 19. Black smoke billowed from her funnel as we touched 20 knots and by the time we drove her up the beach, we were steaming at a full 23 knots and were fully braced for what was a bone shattering impact.
Trust me when I tell you that among her 48 strong crew of men there was not a dry eye on board when she eventually came to a stop on the very soft sand.
I tell you this sad story because recently, I had the chance to sit down to dinner with a yacht broker chum of mine. He is hugely knowledgeable when it comes to superyachts and together we began discussing old yachts and where they were in the world. As we talked, I remarked that I had not seen one particular yacht in some years and my friend told me she had been lost at sea. Such a shame, such a grand old yacht and one clearly worth a great deal of money or so I thought.
No, said my chum, she had been on the market for years and had had several offers from would-be-buyers but none of them offered what the owner considered was enough. The longer she lay in harbour, the more neglected she became my friend said. And the more she deteriorated, the less she was worth. It was all very sad said the broker.
We got to the point that we considered selling all her interior fittings and stripping the hull down to metal for scrap but you know there is so very little in the way of real metal in a superyacht and scrap value is almost nothing when it comes to yachts.
What happened then? I asked. Well the strangest thing my friend said. The owner suddenly got a most wonderful offer, way in excess of the asking price. All he had to do was deliver the yacht to a spot some 500 miles away and the deal would be sealed. The owner got the yacht ready, revalidated the insurance, hired a local crew off the beach and she sailed in the middle of the night. She never made it! She sank quickly in very, very deep water when a sudden blob of bad weather hit, and the owner had to claim her value which of course was based on the letter of offer made by the mystery buyer.
It was at that point in our conversation I realised that we never hear of superyachts being sold for scrap or being dismantled on a beach.
However, we do hear a lot about unfortunate fires and superyachts suddenly sinking and now I am beginning to wonder why. Aren’t you?