At the Antibes Yacht Show 2013, the International Superyacht Society (ISS) held a series of seminars in which one hot topic of discussion was about ethics in the industry. Ken Hickling, president of the ISS, introduced the issue by explaining that, “there are eighty- to ninety-thousand people with enough money to own a superyacht, but less than four-thousand-and-find-hundred actually own one.” Hickling indicated that there is therefore something that is deterring potential owners from the industry and believes that a concern over ethics is one of the main problems. “They are worried that money will disappear into back pockets and they won’t get value for money,” Hickling explained.

With the focus of the discussion on vessel operation and the crew side of ethics, we heard from Nigel Watson, former captain within the Golden Fleet, about his position on ethics in the industry. “During my time in the Golden Fleet,” explains Watson, “It was enforced on me that there was a correct way to run a large superyacht, and everyone in the fleet came away with that feeling. The concept of taking a commission or a bribe was completely alien to us.”

But the ethical stance of the fleet didn’t focus this outlook on money. “It was instilled into us that we were an isolated group of boats cruising all over the world, operating in the manner which we thought was correct,” Watson continued. “Taking big boats into remote operating areas, you have to be very cautious not to be seen as a big bully. There was no arrogance in the way that we operated. We were always subservient to the environment that we were visiting. We wanted to be seen as a first class yacht operation, with people that cared about the way we operated the yachts and also about the environment that we were in.”

John Wyborn of Bluewater Yachting and former employee on the Golden Fleet agreed with Watson and argued that this kind of transparency is lacking elsewhere in the industry. “I had a shock when I left the Golden Fleet,” Wyborn said. “I realised what a difference there was between how I had operated before and how things operated in the industry. Things have improved but there is still a long way to go. I am lucky because within crew training, backhanders are not an issue. But for suppliers or the people that have the power to decide which refit yard a yacht goes to, or which paint company will get the contract, it's clearly an issue and it is going to make someone with a money to invest in our industry very nervous about coming in.”

"The idea that knowledge is power and that knowledge must be kept secret, that was very much the culture at sea when I started in the industry.” - John Wyborn

“As an industry we have got to grow up and embrace the fact that we must do things in an open and ethical way,” Wyborn continued. “Not just in terms of money but in what we do as well. We need better education for crew; the idea that knowledge is power and that knowledge must be kept secret, that was very much the culture at sea when I started in the industry.”

The session drew to an end with panelists asking the question whether the industry should implement training in ethics for crew with one member of the audience pointing out that, “There is nothing in the superyacht industry that forewarns you about the pitfalls that you can fall into and there are a lot of people that aren’t trained to know the difference between a gift and a commission.” Others concluded that the industry needs a ‘code of ethics’ accepted across the industry and by captains and crew alike in order to rebuild trust and transparency.

While the UK Bribery Law exists, a 'code of ethics' may seem pointless to some, but the superyacht industry has been known to see itself as outside the law on many occasions. Perhaps a collective agreement on what the industry should do, as apposed to what it shouldn't, could encourage honest actions and boost the reputation of an industry that has the ability to dramatically increase its business.

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