Sitting in the cool offices of O&S Shipping in Marsa, Managing Director Kurt Camilleri is straightforward and matter-of-fact about the efforts required to transport a 95-metre super yacht onto another ship and out of Maltese waters. He has been in the freight and shipping industry for the past 17 years and has been handling yacht transportation since around 2013. Mr Camilleri is no stranger to the maritime sector, with many of his relatives having been sailors, port workers and customs officers. Back in January 2019, he organised the vessel, port agency and logistics to transport a super yacht named My Neom. Previously known as the Indian Empress, the yacht went through a series of unfortunate and fortunate events, resulting in the ultra-luxurious yacht winding up in a
Transporting Maltese marina, while international yacht transportation company DYT were tasked with organising its transport to Cartagena, Spain. Its new owners intend to refit and eventually charter the yacht to high-end holidaymakers in Europe and beyond. In this particular case, the yacht couldn’t sail on its own power, and he explained that for an operation of this size, there are three possible transport options. The first one would be to tow the yacht across the Mediterranean, which comes with a host of issues. Mr Camilleri stresses that yachts are not designed to be towed across high seas and hence there is a risk of causing damage.
Another issue is the cost associated with towing a yacht. He says that it is not simply a matter of hiring one tugboat and tying the yacht to the tugboat, but rather, some three service boats/tugboats would need to be used, and this does not come at a small cost. The second option is a process Mr Camilleri and his team call ‘water to water’ or ‘piggy-back transport,’ whereby a geared vessel would lift the yacht from water with her own crane, place it on the deck and discharge it in water at the destination.
This method is most often employed by O&S, however due to the narrow timeframe in which the yacht needed to be transported, Mr Camilleri explains that there were no vessels available in Europe with the capability of lifting the 500-metric-tonne Neom. The third option, which is the one O&S adopted, entails the use of an impressive yacht-carrying vessel named the Super Servant 4 – a semi-submersible vessel dedicated to yacht relocation around the world.
“We [O&S] as the local agents organise the port agency, logistics and all coordination required for DYT Yacht Transport,” he says.
Launching into a simplified explanation of how yachts are transported onto the Super Servant 4, Mr Camilleri says that once the vessel is all fast, the necessary rigging, wooden beams, frames and equipment are positioned on deck prior to being submerged underwater, giving the impression of open water surrounded by metal railings, with the ship’s bridge and accommodation area remaining above water. The rectangular softwood blocks are lined up in a row and are intended to land the V-shaped yacht once the vessel pumps out all the sea water and goes back up above sea level. It is further supported by ‘A-frames’ positioned on either side of Neom by a team of divers before the yacht and vessel are brought back up above sea level and eventually welded on deck by a group of welders and lashed by riggers.
The vessel takes roughly four hours to fully submerge, while its impressive pumps work for around four hours to emerge, leaving the deck and the super yacht dry and ready for transportation. “All in all, the biggest headache when coordinating an operation of this magnitude is making sure you take all the moving parts and relevant factors into consideration before the operation begins. You cannot start the transport of the yacht onto the Super Servant 4 and stop midway due to some unforeseen circumstance. You need to make all the necessary plans, considerations and coordination before actually starting,” Mr Camilleri remarks. Moreover, the mission was further complicated by the strong winds which plagued the island in January. He says that usually, a yacht-transfer of this size would be carried out at an assigned anchorage area, however the wind did not permit such an operation.
Due to the circumstances, Mr Camilleri had to convince the authorities to allow the operation within the Valletta port. In view of all the considerations needed, before being given the green light by the authorities, DYT and O&S were required to commission a full risk assessment. Presenting the risk assessment, Mr Camilleri highlights the incredible detail that it goes into.
After getting the green light, another significant issue which arose was the sea depth of the port. The vessel submerges 12 metres below sea level, whereas the sea depth of the intended area for the operation to take place was 13 metres deep. However, a ballasting system used to adjust the vessel as it is coming back up above water requires more leeway than its 12-metre depth, meaning the vessel had to pick a deeper spot within the port, eventually managing to secure an area which reaches 17 metres in depth through placement of barges on the original quay.
“The entire operation has to be planned in the matter of one week. Everything happens very suddenly, so you have to be on the ball. All things considered, an error in the process could cost millions and tarnish one’s reputation, and worse still, an error could injure or even kill one of the workers involved, so there is a lot of pressure to get things right,” he contends.
To provide a clearer picture of the swiftness of the operation, Mr Camilleri explains that the Super Servant 4 arrived in Malta at the pilot station on 8th January at 5.30am and was all fast at 7.35am.