Hurricane Irma, the most powerful North Atlantic storm since 1980, brought sweeping devastation to the Caribbean at the beginning of September this year, with large numbers of yachts and marinas among the wreckage as 165-knot winds pummelled many island communities.
It was quickly followed by Hurricane Maria, which laid waste to Dominica, south of Antigua and Puerto Rico, both of which will be struggling to recover for the foreseeable future.
The Red Cross, which quickly launched a humanitarian appeal in response to the disaster, described the impact as "catastrophic”. The hurricanes caused over 160 fatalities, millions of people and businesses across the Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Florida have been without power, drinking water, and many have had their homes and livelihoods torn apart.
Barbuda and St Maarten were among the worst affected areas, with the governor of the British Virgin Islands, Gus Jaspert confirming multiple fatalities and declaring a state of emergency.
Six weeks on, the devastating impact of Irma and Maria continue to affect many lives and businesses; as lives on the islands are rebuilt piece by piece, thoughts are turning towards the long-term economic damage caused by natural disasters such as hurricanes.
Heather Grant of Erika’s Yacht Agents, a superyacht agency in Union Island in the Grenadines—an area mercifully untouched by either cataclysm—explained that with the Caribbean a prime yachting destination, Irma and Maria have the potential to not only have destroyed the livelihood of millions in the region, but to also cause a devastating decline in nautical tourism. This includes those areas unaffected by the storm, further driving hardship for the islands, as its economy is largely reliant on the sector.
She spoke of the impact of the hurricanes and the resulting unease in visiting the Caribbean: “Erika’s Yacht Agents would like to wish well to all the islands in the Caribbean adversely affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The devastation has been horrendous and our hearts go out to all who are struggling to recover.
“In the meantime, the southern part of the Caribbean region is unaffected—from Martinique to Grenada we were spared any damage or adverse conditions. Antigua is also fully operational.
“Until the north recovers sufficiently—and it is happening as we speak—to provide the usual infrastructure and cruising areas to yachts, we encourage all to look a bit further south for their sailing enjoyment. Do not let these terrible calamities destroy everything we have all built over the years. Staying away from the region completely will adversely affect the victims to an even greater extent.”
Many businesses affected are updating customers on a daily basis regarding their operational abilities in the wake of the disaster. As the Caribbean rebuilds itself, information is surfacing every day on marinas still under repair in the area, and those that have remained, or again become, fully operational.
IGY Marinas, which operates several marinas across the Caribbean, has been providing updates on its website regarding the operational abilities of its marinas since Irma and Maria. Nine of their marinas are said to be ‘fully operational’ with six ‘currently under repair’. The bulk of the repair work is currently still centred on their marinas in St Maarten and St Thomas, areas amongst those receiving the worst of the damage.
On 5th October 2017, SuperYacht Aid Coalition (SAC)—comprised of a fleet of superyachts, businesses, and yacht support services, to provide much needed relief and supplies to hurricane ravaged islands in the Caribbean—deployed YachtAid Global (YAG) to use its proven logistical skill to fulfill the superyacht industry’s response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Norma Trease, founding member of SAC, said, “During the Monaco Yacht Show, a work group consisting of many important industry groups gathered together to organise a comprehensive response to the unfathomable Caribbean disaster which has so severely impacted many islands; [those] which have hosted and fostered our industry and businesses for many decades.
“New interest and financial support increase each day. During MYS, the following organisations showed their support by giving time, expertise and financial aid: MYBA, IYBA, LYBRA, BWA/ARK, PYA, AYSS, ACREW, ISS and many yacht support services companies such as YachtNeeds, Freedom Maritime, Riviera Yacht Support, Melita Marine, National Marine, and several yachts.”