Since the Government introduced the Superyacht Decree in 2010, what was previously a non-existent business for the Fiji tourism industry has flourished.
And like the yachts themselves, it is big business in every way.
Port Denarau Marina is the main port for the operations of superyachts in Fiji but there are several other marinas considering the development necessary to service this industry.
Port Denarau has recently increased the number of superyacht berths it had and improved other services to meet the demands.
Some superyachts are now choosing to do their maintenance work in Fiji and are satisfied that the standard of workmanship is equal to that available elsewhere.
A spin-off from the actual superyacht industry are other tourism products that are being considered as investments by the owners of some of the visiting yachts, again boosting the Fijian economy.
Industry people in Fiji say that it is likely that some 700 yachts in the smaller classes will visit Fiji in the next twelve months, adding greatly to the country’s tourism income.
And the Government has pledged to continue to provide assistance and support for this booming industry.
Research figures soon to be released by the Attorney-General and Minister for Tourism Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum are expected to underscore the growth of the superyacht business here.
WHAT IS A SUPERYACHT?
A superyacht is any vessel that is designed to carry passengers for cruising and is 28 metres or more in length.
Needless to say, the superyacht is also fitted out in great luxury, with a sizeable crew to handle the vessel and look after the needs of the passengers as they relax and enjoy the environment.
As well as crew members to look after the vessel and sail it from place to place, the crew also includes people like chefs, waiters, barmkeepers, housekeepers, maintenance staff, boatpeople for the various smaller boats that are available for different sports, a pilot for the helicopter that many superyachts carry to ferry passengers to and from the shore, medical staff, divers, engineers and other specialists.
It is not unusual for a superyacht to have twice as many crew as passengers.
Traditionally superyachts travel between the Northern and Southern hemispheres each year so that the owner and his or her guests can take advantage of the best cruising weather.
In the past the Southern destination has generally been the Caribbean islands but over the last three years there has been a dramatic shift to the Pacific, mainly centered on Fiji.
The Superyacht Decree, with the easy access it provides for these vessels and their crews, was an important reason for the shift, but the beauty and pristine environment of the South Pacific, the friendliness of the local people, the excellent security and the fact that the Government actively assists these owners, many of whom are famous celebrities to maintain a low profile in Fiji all add to the attraction.
In addition to Superyachts, the numbers of visits by smaller cruising yachts has also increased, and these vessels also leave a significant amount of money behind in Fiji.
As well as the expected spending by all yachts on provisioning, fuel, services and government fees and taxes, there is an increasing trend to having servicing and overhauls carried out in Fiji.
COMPANIES BENEFIT TOO
There are a number of excellent companies that provide a variety of trades and their reputation is growing amongst the yachting fraternity.
And maintenance costs, even for relatively small yachts, are a significant amount.
Generally it is estimated that at least ten percent of the value of the yacht will be spent each year on planned maintenance, more if emergency repairs are required.
So figures of around US$6 million can be involved in the operation of a superyacht for a year.
Some superyachts also provide employment for Fijian nationals, either as part of the permanent crew or as supplementary crew while they are in the South Pacific.
This puts wages into the local community, and a surer yacht crew member is generally very well paid.
They are also fully provided for while on board, so most of their wages are their discretionary spending.
For some yachts the Fijian crew component is high.
For example the superyacht SuRi is predominantly crewed and even captained by Fijians.
All this is happening at the same time that the superyacht fleet worldwide is growing.
The authoritative web site Superyachts.com has just released the list of the top 100 superyachts for 2012.
The leader is a new yacht which started construction in late 2009.
It was built in great secrecy for the Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, who made his fortune in Russian oil and other commodities.
The yacht, named Eclipse is 164 metres long (about the size of one and a half rugby fields).
It has a total of nine decks and two separate helicopter landing pads.
It is loaded with all sorts of toys for passengers entertainment, has a cinema and a private garden on board.
He is also the owner of a second superyacht, the slightly smaller 115-metre Polaris, one of the largest explorer yachts in the world.
The second largest superyacht in the world is owned by the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and is 162 metres long.
Closer to home and number 46 on the top 100 list is Aortic P, an 87-metre vessel owned by an Australian media entrepreneur and at number 90 a 75-metre superyacht called Reborn (previously named Boadicea) which is owned by Reg Grundy.
Reborn has five decks, a panoramic lounge, cinema and nine separate dining areas.
One of the strangest yachts on the list is Ocean Breeze at number 59.
It was built for Saddam Hussein, but was never delivered because of the disruption of the war.
Details of this vessel, which was built in great secrecy, are still shrouded in secrecy.
Superyachts.com says that a superyacht of 62 metres would have easily made the top 100 list in 2006 would have made only a “modest impression” in 2007.
In the past two years only yachts over 73 metres would have made the top 100 list.
It is expected that around 12 superyachts will be built in Europe this year but none are likely to pass Eclipse for the top spot.
John Ross – Fiji Sun