The dark side of life on a superyacht

 June 6, 2018

Porsche Superyacht Dynamiq GTT 115
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“It’s the dream of countless young people – to see the world working on the boats of the rich. But the reality can be slave conditions and even mysterious deaths for which no one is held responsible.” – says Daily Mail, highlighting a Monaco example as well.

Mixing with A-listers, receiving four-figure tips and following the sun from the Caribbean to the Med. All the while aboard one of the most luxurious superyachts money can buy. If there’s a better place to work, it would be a struggle to name it.

Some of these boats boast spas, cinema rooms and 24-hour fine dining. Take, for example, Russian tycoon and Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich’s 533 ft superyacht Eclipse, valued at more than £1 billion. She is equipped with a submarine, space for three helicopters and a pool that transforms into a dancefloor.

And with orders for these vast multi-million pound floating palaces (superyachts are defined as being longer than 79 ft) at a record level, there are more opportunities than ever for adventurous youngsters from Britain to work on board these super-vessels.

There are currently around 37,000 crew members employed on the 6,821 superyachts in the world. Of these, more than half — around 19,000 — are British. But beneath all the opulence exists a darker world. One characterised by exploitation, negligence and even death.

For example, while billionaire bosses and their guests enjoy sumptuous suites, staff are predominantly housed in cramped, windowless, shared cabins in the bottom of the boat. Working hours are nothing less than punishing, with 20-hour days the norm.

Over the past few years, at least three young Britons have died working on board. And when accidents do happen, the deaths are often treated as little more than an inconvenience, according to some grieving families.

Under maritime law, what happens onboard is governed by the laws of the country where the ship is registered. These tend to be small tax havens, known as Flags of Convenience (FOC) states, such as Panama or Bermuda, which have very lax employment protection laws.

If there is any suspected criminality on board, once you have sailed 12 miles away from the shoreline, you are no longer protected by the police force of the nearest country to you. Instead, it is the responsibility of the FOC nation the ship flies the flag of.

This is something Will Black’s family profess to knowing all about. The 28-year old from Ripley, Surrey, was just six weeks into a new job as bosun (officer in charge of crew and equipment) of the £15 million Burrasca in September 2010 when he went missing.

William Black, 28 from Ripley, Surrey (second from left with his family), was just six weeks into a new job as bosun in September 2010 when he went missing. His body has never been found but it is believed he died after a boat he was piloting collided with another boat / Photo via Daily Mail

His body has never been found, but it is believed he died after a boat he was piloting collided with another boat in a Monaco harbour.

His family say they received a phone call from the German captain to say he was missing, but to their disbelief, they say the Burrasca sailed away before they arrived two days later.

Will’s mother Judith, 62, a pharmaceutical conference organiser, says:

‘We phoned to say we would be arriving in the morning and the captain said they had already left.

‘He said don’t worry as they had thrown some flowers in the water for Will and given his belongings to the police.

‘It was like he didn’t exist to them, they just didn’t care. Where was the respect for his life?’

Judith, along with husband Robin, a 67-year-old music executive and Will’s sister Rosanna, 37, says they were left without help or support and still do not know the name of who owned the boat — other than it was a Russian billionaire — as there is no legal requirement for owners to declare themselves.

Black’s family say they received a phone call from the German captain to say he was missing, but to their disbelief, they say the Burrasca (pictured) sailed away before they arrived two days later / Photo via Daily Mail

So far, representatives for the boat have failed to respond to what Judith says happened.

‘We received the call to say he was missing after failing to show for work. We flew to Monaco but it was the boat show and was incredibly busy. We don’t speak French and didn’t know where to stay.

‘One of Will’s friends whom he had worked with in the past came to find us. He translated for us and helped us speak to the police and coastguard.’

The police told them a submarine was required to search for Will’s body. With help from a management yachting company in Monaco, they learned Will’s contract did not include insurance, they say, which meant they would have to foot the bill of £5,000 a day for the search.

Fortunately, the organisers of a Monaco boat show kindly stepped in and paid for two days of submarine use.

‘I don’t blame the captain. He had his orders to leave. Blame is not going to bring Will back,’ Judith adds.

‘Will really was a one-off, he loved the boating life. He worked his way up from deckhand to bosun. We were so proud of him.’

Read the full reportage at Daily Mail

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