The rising fortunes of the world’s billionaires during the pandemic helped fuel a record £5.3billion in superyacht sales last year, prompting calls for further cuts in their emissions.
New figures reveal that 887 superyachts were sold in 2021, an increase of more than 75% compared to the previous year. Yachting brokers say some of the demand is coming from wealthy clients seeking safe haven from the pandemic.
Sam Tucker, superyacht team leader at VesselsValue, the marine and aviation data company that compiled the report, said: “It was the strongest year on record for the number of transactions and the money spent. .” He said low interest rates and rising stock markets had meant more disposable income for the world’s wealthiest people.
A superyacht is generally defined as a private vessel 78 feet (24 meters) or more in length. According to industry data, there are more than 9,300 on the seas with a total value of over £50billion.
While shipyards are keen to promote the green credentials of many superyachts, they are big polluters. It has been estimated that a superyacht with a permanent crew, helicopter, submarines and swimming pools emits around 7,020 tons of carbon dioxide per year, more than 1,500 times more than a typical family car.
Paul Stretesky, professor of social science at Northumbria University and co-author of a 2019 report, Measuring the Ecological Impact of the Wealthy, said more financial levies were needed on the superyacht industry.
He said: “The damage caused by this conspicuous consumption is incredible. It’s not something we should aspire to, it’s something we should stop.” Stretesky’s report found annual fuel costs for a superyacht can be around £300,000.
A report published last year by the environmental platform EcoWatch analyzed the carbon footprint of 20 billionaires. He found that a superyacht was “by far the worst asset to own from an environmental point of view”.
Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who is believed to have owned at least five superyachts, topped the list released in February last year, accounting for estimated annual carbon emissions of nearly 34,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The largest ship in its fleet is the 163-meter (535-foot) superyacht Eclipse.
It has nine decks, the upper one containing two helipads and a garage. It has a 16-meter (53-foot) swimming pool that can be converted into a dance floor. It is estimated at £1 billion after extensive refurbishment.
Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos was near the bottom of the carbon footprint rankings in last year’s analysis, but quickly climbed the rankings in 2021 with a trip to the far reaches of space and reports that he had ordered a new superyacht with the project name Y721. The £350million yacht will accommodate 18 guests with a crew of 40 and will be escorted by its own support vessel.
New rules were due to come into force in 2016 to limit some of the most dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions from superyachts, which can be around 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in heating the atmosphere.
The industry successfully lobbied for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) emission standards to be delayed by five years for superyachts under 500 tonnes. They were finally implemented in January last year, but the US Coast Guard said it would not enforce the regulations after lobbying by the shipping industry which says the bulky equipment needed to clear the Engine exhaust pollution is impractical on many yachts.