To many, the image of the superyacht industry is one of excessive opulence. A number of recently publicised newspaper articles have exposed the lavish nature of some of the parties being held on board some yachts with revelations of drug taking and prostitution capturing the headlines.
The link with drug abuse and yachts has never exactly been too far away. Some will associate this link with owners and guests. However, we cannot ignore the crew. Many fail to appreciate the hard work involved in working on board a superyacht so when there’s an opportunity for some down time, crew members will naturally want to let their hair down.
The departure of the owner or guests following a long and tiresome charter may incite a strong desire in the crew to go ashore and party. The accumulation of disposable income coupled with the desire to party hard makes yachties an attractive target for local drug dealers.
While it could be argued that the use of drugs whilst ashore is no business of the management, there is a strong case against that as one management company has revealed. “The crew had just finished a charter, they had cash in hand and some time off and so they went on a bender”, explained the yacht’s manager.
“The crew had been drinking and using cocaine and methamphetamines”. The crew were allowed to stay out late and sleep in, but they became concerned about one crewmember when she failed to show up on deck by lunch. Unable to rouse her by knocking on the door, the Captain unlocked her cabin and found her dead in her bunk. An autopsy confirmed a fatal drug overdose.
While this tragic incident highlights the worst case scenario, it’s a proven fact that most drugs have long term effects that continue long after the drug has been taken. There’s also a possibility that the crew member may develop such a taste for drugs that they keep their own personal stash on board.
The yacht has a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment. This includes selecting crew members that are fit and capable of carrying out their duties both competently and safely. An individual who is or has been under the influence of drugs presents a significant safety hazard not only to themselves but also to the rest of the crew. Statistics suggest that within two years of developing a drug problem, a crew member’s work performance will deteriorate to the extent where they become unemployable.
Safe working practices are of prime importance in most sectors and the superyacht industry is no exception. The maritime sector as a whole is one of the most heavily regulated with a specific emphasis on safety. At sea everyone is responsible, not only for their own safety, but also for the safety of others. All drugs, including alcohol and some prescribed drugs may have side effects that exacerbate the risk of accidents on board. Even in moderate doses, some drugs remain in the body and can affect the user for a number of days after the drug was taken.
In addition to the safety hazards presented by drug abuse, attention must also be given to the legal implications, particularly for the Captain. Turning a blind eye to drug abuse may seem like the easiest option at the time however if the Captain knowingly permits the possession or use of illegal substances on board then he may well be liable for prosecution. If the Captain knowingly permits a crew member that is under the influence of drugs to continue working then he may face criminal charges, especially if an accident has occurred.
In many countries, the possession of most recreational drugs is illegal thereby exposing the user to the additional risk of criminal charges. Moreover, if drugs are found on board they may expose the Captain, owner and management to criminal charges. The discovery of illegal drugs on board a yacht by customs officers can result in the yacht being detained and the owner or management being fined. In extreme cases the yacht itself may be confiscated.
A clear and unambiguous company policy on drugs should be written stressing the importance of safety on board. The policy should clearly state that non-compliance will be considered as serious misconduct that could lead to disciplinary proceedings. In short, the policy should:
- Identify drugs on board as being a safety issue.
- Clearly state the company’s position that the use or possession of any unauthorised drug on board any of their yachts is intolerable.
- Highlight the concept of drug testing.
In addition to having a zero tolerance company policy towards drugs use, the inclusion of a drugs clause within a crew member’s contract reaffirms the responsibilities and obligations of both parties. By signing the contract, it is important that the crew member gives their consent to submit to the company’s drug testing programme and authorises the company to receive the results of any subsequent drugs tests. Moreover, the clause should:
- Reiterate that the company’s drug policy is a safety issue of optimum importance.
- Stress that no person shall take on board or be in possession of any unauthorised drug.
- Define an unauthorised drug as a drug which has not been prescribed by a fully qualified medical practitioner.
- Stress that crew members shall disclose to the Master details of any prescribed drugs which they are carrying or using.
- State that they specifically consent to provide urine samples or blood samples on request.
- State that being in possession or under the influence of any unauthorised drug on board the yacht or reporting for duty under the influence of any unauthorised drug is serious misconduct that will result in immediate suspension and further disciplinary action.
- State that refusal to provide blood or urine samples when requested to do so will in itself be considered serious misconduct.
Types of drugs test / the testing process
When employing a drugs testing team, it is advisable to hire the services of an external agency. That way, the test can be conducted by an impartial third party with no accusations of favouritism or victimisation. The testing team should arrive on board unannounced. All crew activities should cease and the crew will be gathered together to receive the brief on how the tests will be undertaken.
Drugs can be detected in blood, sweat, urine, saliva and hair. Urine testing is the most popular method due to it being relatively simple and cost effective. Urine testing kits can vary but the most basic kit will generally detect the six most commonly used drugs. Results are generally given within a time period of five minutes.
To ensure that no contamination takes place, all urine samples should be conducted in the presence of a testing team monitor. The sample will then be handed to the monitor who will then assess the result of the sample.
In the event of a test sample proving to be positive, where drugs in the sample are detected, the sample then goes through the Chain of Custody process. This involves the sample being placed into tamper proof bags and sent away for further testing and confirmation to an independent laboratory. To avoid any accusations of tampering, the sample is bagged and sealed in full view of the donor and a signature is obtained to validate the donor’s satisfaction with the process.
A full report is sent to the yacht’s management company highlighting the full outcome of the testing process. If necessary, the management company shall then decide on what further action to take.
The effectiveness of a drug screening and testing programme depends entirely upon its deterrent value. In other words it depends on whether the crew members believe that drug users will be detected or whether they believe that the programme can be beaten. For example, if crew members feel that once a ship has been tested they are safe for six months, the programme’s effectiveness is considerably weakened.
Therefore, introducing a strict zero tolerance drugs policy will go a long way to maintaining a drug free yacht. This turn is beneficial to crew safety and the yacht’s standing in the industry by:
- Reducing the risk and cost of accidents caused by impaired judgement.
- Reducing the cost of absenteeism or poor work performance of the drug user.
- Saving on the cost and inconvenience of recruiting and training replacement crew when drug abusers become unreliable.
- Reducing the possibility of fines and vessel detention.
- Improving crew morale.
- Improving the yacht’s reputation.
- An effective drug policy has been proven to attract a higher quality of job applicant.
For many years drug abuse has blighted the image of the superyacht industry. However, an increased emphasis towards safety means that drug use and safety do not go hand in hand. It’s a proven fact that drug abuse can have serious consequences to the safety and well-being of the crew. Therefore, the implementation of a zero tolerance towards drugs use coupled with a strict drug testing regime sends out a powerful message. Having a crew that is entirely clean from drugs is undoubtedly a positive step for everyone on board.
Ed Hill is Managing Director of superyacht security company Intrepid Risk Management. A former sniper in the Royal Marines Commandos, Ed has a Masters’ Degree in Maritime Security. He regularly writes articles for various superyacht magazines and speaks at conferences on matters related to security. He can be contacted by visiting www.intrepid-risk.com