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Toronto Times January 20 2018
THE NEW BOAT PEOPLE – BILLIONAIRES
Although it is now a virtually forgotten episode of modern history, for over a decade from about 1975 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ were constantly in the news. Thousands of Vietnamese refugees were lost at sea in the flimsy little boats they used to escape communist persecution in their homeland
Before globalisation made international mobility commonplace, most Western governments were openly reluctant to accommodate non-white refugees in any number. The moral dilemma was never overwhelming; the sympathy shown by Western electorates evaporated as the tragedy ran and ran. And the West completely acquitted itself of any moral responsibility when the citizens of Hong Kong rioted at the numbers of their Oriental cousins, mostly ethnic Chinese, being admitted. Many where forcibly repatriated from what they thought would be a safe haven to face their fate in Vietnam.
Today’s boat people are estimated at 15,000 and growing very rapidly. The difference this time round is that they are the very rich, with survival instincts. They have quietly propelled growth in the ‘utilitarian superyacht’ sector. Recognising that resources actually were becoming truly finite and that, as the British say, discretion is he better part of valour, the very rich are opting for decommissioned cargo ships and tankers. Ideally anything regarded as inconspicuous and sturdy enough to withstand most natural and man-made obstacles.
Where once superyachts were about ostentation, speed and making sure as many people as possible knew the purchase price, the new billionaire aim is something less about show and more about purpose. Idle fishing boats are the most popular vessels for conversion for the modestly rich. The collapse of fishing stocks has made them readily available and cheap. Their freezers and cold storage rooms are ideal to be adapted for their new purpose- safety, security and long-term preservation of food for the privileged rather than fish.
Their owners may have led a life of conspicuous consumption but where their new yachts are concerned they are looking for the last word in eco-tech. A desalination machine which can make seawater perfectly potable is standard, as are solar panels and wind turbines. Most of the yachts are equipped with super-efficient sails, which are completely retractable for safety and security reasons. Some are trying to mimic the roof-garden by using the deck and flat surfaces for growing hybrid vegetables which can tolerate salty breezes, using canopies and even greenhouses where necessary. Exterior and interior design is not about luxury but about maintaining a discreet appearance with a few concessions to liveability and convenience. Where once containers rode the decks, now disguised living pods take their place. They are completely collapsible to remove any vulnerability to attack. Beds, sofa and chairs are all inflatable, any kind of storage is found below deck.
Although the typical boat is effectively a village, at short notice it can become an impregnable hulk.
With good reason - an accumulation of provisions in a time food panics has led to some governments banning these ships from their waters and they are prey to increasingly ambitious and well-armed pirates.
In many developed countries groups of the rich-but-not-quite-superrich have formed alliances and groups to mimic the role of government as central administrations collapse.
In Lisbon six people died when a ship was attacked by a mob and the security fired live bullets before lifting anchor. That incident brought to light the ownership privacy methods being used- the slump in global trade has inspired Liberia and Panama, the former flags of convenience of choice, to offer the new era’s equivalent of numbered Swiss bank accounts, anonymous registration, ownership papers and even passports.
On most of the boats the crew is supplemented by family retainers and favourites: lawyers, bankers and accountants, all of whom usually have chores, not the least of which is training in how to be merchant seamen. Most owners also ensure that they have bodyguards and just as young people once bummed around marinas looking for a few months work on a yacht, mercenaries and martial arts experts are now to be found around harbours. There are two schools of thought for billionaire boat owners to consider. Firstly, each yacht should be protected as ably as possible, with some security consultants recommending as high as five armed personnel per passenger. The second school says no armed bodyguards should be used because they are too conspicuous and what’s to stop them mounting a coup and accept fee-paying survivors?
Some boats have a missile defence system to attack assailants conclusively, avoiding hand-to-hand combat, in which the passengers would be too vulnerable if ambushed by a trained and determined group. The boats are particularly sought by pirates because they are widely reported to carry medicines, precious metals, essential minerals and ores, and even libraries of essential knowledge.
The boats are keeping a low profile since rumours, unsubstantiated but persistent, began circulating in several ports that some or even all of the survival yachts are co-operating on a ‘Noah’s Ark survival model’.
The details are a vague but there is ample anecdotal evidence in several Europeans ports that young ‘Aryan looking’ women are being ‘contracted’ to be mothers on ‘survival yachts’. Local officials dismiss these claims saying young women have always prowled the most exclusive yacht harbours of the Mediterranean hoping to hook a rich husband. For some that explanation, feeble at best, is no longer sufficient. A few months ago a Marseille journalist reported that a quartet of Oslo sisters from ‘a white supremacist family’ boarded a boat to take them to a billionaire’s vessel moored off Corsica with the express purpose of breeding a master race of survivors.
Although these stories are unsubstantiated many think they have credibility. The very rich have always been attracted to financing politicians and some even to scientific schemes involving the future of humanity so something as urgent as survival is bound to appeal to the moneyed ego. If a rich man wants to be deep frozen for centuries what is to stop him taking action in a genuine emergency?
The prevalence of the reports also suggests more than a glimmer of truth, which a decimated media cannot monitor. Some suspect governments are probably either complicit or turning a blind eye.
An anonymous government source in London was quoted as saying that ‘Survival has been outsourced- governments can’t be seen to acknowledge such occurrences. Let’s face it, there’d be panic and rebellion. We’ll just have to learn, quietly and subtly, from the private sector’.
Conspiracy theorists believe that many politicians have agreements with financial donors to secure safety for their families. Despite the racist overtones in Europe, it has been suggested that similar practices exist in other parts of the world. It is known that several Arab sheiks operate several converted supertankers which accommodate their extended families.