There was a time when the rich purchased private jets. However, such has been the explosion in prosperity over the past 20 years that the truly rich now have to have a yacht or two to show-off and relax in. Whilst yacht’s that are 40 metres or so are the domain of the mega rich, the real masters of the universe have yachts which are 80 metres or longer – these are called “superyachts” (basically, a ship turned into a luxurious playground). This FT article has a chart which shows that demand for such superyachts is now at its highest since the Global Financial Crisis and two groups of buyers account for half of this market – the Russians and the Middle Eastern sheikhs (the latter apparently do the most lavish fitouts to their superyachts).
So who manufactures these giant toys for the obscenely rich to party in? Quoting the FT: “The industrial zone and sprawling lorry park in the small Dutch town of Oss give almost no indication of the opulent yachts being built inside nine covered dockside sheds, or of the identity of their clients or owners.
But Heesen, the local shipyard that boasts of “producing some of the finest superyachts in the world”, is part of a tight network of manufacturers and service businesses for the waterborne super-rich that is now under scrutiny because of their Russian oligarch clientele.
Heesen is ultimately owned by Vagit Alekperov, who runs the Russian oil company Lukoil and is under sanctions in the UK and Australia. The company, which says it is operationally independent of Alekperov, has built three “Galactica” yachts linked to him…It is one of a network of companies in the European superyacht supply chain stretching from designers in Norway to builders in Germany and Italy, brokers in Monaco and crews in the UK.
They balance discretion in their operations with flamboyance in their marketing and their finished products…
Egbert Wattel, chief executive of Younique Yachts in Makkum, another Dutch shipbuilding town, describes a longstanding culture of secrecy even for builders of smaller boats like him: “Most owners don’t want everyone to know they’re building a yacht. It’s always been like that. It’s like being a doctor — you don’t mention who the patients are.””
Alongside the high spec fitout of these yachts and the culture of secrecy which pervades this industry, the other interesting facet of this market is how it is staffed: “A Dutch craftsman highlighted both an obsession with detail and secrecy as characteristic of the sector: “The standards are incredible. You have to do things just perfectly . . . but it’s so secret. If I did something amazing today, I can’t show my mum. I am not allowed to take a photo of my work.”…
A former coast guard in Antigua told the Financial Times that Russian superyachts often had armed private security guards. “We pretty much leave them [alone]. We can’t search a boat that big and we know if we do the owner might have a direct relationship with politicians so we need to be careful.”
Yet those that work in the industry say owners generally spend a few weeks a year at most on their yachts. While there is an active re-sale market, they also offer a low return on investment, given annual operating costs are typically 10 per cent of the purchase price.
The need for large crews — typically male for the decks, young and female for the interior and with a general preference for non-Russian speakers — as well as regular reprovisioning and online satellite tracking alongside their highly visible presence in harbours also means discretion is limited.”
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