Superyacht sales surge prompts fresh calls for curbs on their emissions

Campaigners say a superyacht can produce 1,500 times more carbon than a typical family car, and the polluters should pay

The rising fortunes of the world’s billionaires during the pandemic helped fuel a record £5.3bn in superyacht sales last year, prompting calls for new curbs on their emissions.

New figures reveal that 887 superyachts were sold in 2021, an increase of more than 75% compared with the previous year. Yachting brokers say some of the demand has been from wealthy clients seeking a secure refuge from the pandemic.

Sam Tucker, head of the superyachts team at VesselsValue, the maritime and aviation data firm which compiled the report, said: “It has been 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 richest people.

A superyacht is typically defined as a privately owned vessel 78 feet (24 metres) or more in length. According to industry data, there are more than 9,300 on the seas worth a total in excess of £50bn.

While maritime construction yards are keen to promote the green credentials of many superyachts, they are major polluters. It has been estimated a superyacht with permanent crew, helicopter pad, submarines and pools emits about 7,020 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, more than 1,500 times higher than a typical family car.

Paul Stretesky, a professor of social sciences 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.

Roman Abramovich’s yacht Eclipse anchored of Turkey in 2020.
Roman Abramovich’s yacht Eclipse anchored off Turkey in 2020. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

He said: “The damage done by this conspicuous consumption is incredible. It’s not something we should aspire to, it’s something we should stop.” Stretesky’s report found that the annual fuel costs of a superyacht can be about £300,000.

A report last year by the environmental platform EcoWatch analysed the carbon footprint of 20 billionaires. It found a superyacht was “by far the worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint”.

The Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who is reported to have owned at least five superyachts, topped the list published in February last year, accounting for estimated annual carbon emissions of nearly 34,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The biggest vessel in his fleet is the 163-metre (535ft) superyacht Eclipse.

It has nine decks, with the top one containing two helipads and a garage. It has a 16-metre (53ft) swimming pool that can be converted into a dancefloor. It is estimated to be worth £1bn after extensive refurbishments.

Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos was near the bottom of the carbon footprint league table in last year’s analysis, but has rapidly climbed up the table in 2021 with a trip to the outer edge of space and reports he had commissioned a new superyacht with the project name Y721. The £350m yacht will accommodate 18 guests with a 40-stong crew and will be escorted by its own support vessel.

New rules were due to come into force in 2016 to curb some of the most dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions from superyachts, which can be about 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide at heating the atmosphere.

The industry successfully lobbied for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) emission standards to be delayed for five years for superyachts under 500 tonnes. They were finally implemented in January last year, but the US Coast Guard has said it will not enforce the regulations after lobbying by the marine industry which says the bulky equipment required to remove pollution out of engine exhaust is impractical on many yachts.


Jon Ungoed-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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