The wealthy tycoons and oligarchs enjoying summer on their luxury yachts in Saint-Tropez have been warned: cries of SOS, reports of fires, accidents or persons overboard may take a while to answer.
The French Riviera town’s lifeboat is out of action awaiting repairs while its volunteer crew accuse rich yacht captains of being too mean to stump up a few euros to pay for a replacement.
Resort Lifeboat officials said their ageing vessel, the Bailli de Suffren II, in service for more than 30 years, needed a spare part from Italy, and that it would not be putting to sea in the next two weeks.
The Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM) at Saint-Tropez has ordered a new €1.4m lifeboat, which is now under construction in Brittany with a delivery date for next spring. But it needed another €200,000 to pay for it to be equipped with high-tech electronic devices and for its delivery, the society said.
The SNSM wrote this year to wealthy individuals and companies owning luxury yachts moored at Saint-Tropez, asking them to put their hands in their pockets. The town is a playground of the global super-rich.
Pierre-Yves Barasc, the president of the Saint-Tropez lifeboat station, said the appeal sank almost without trace. The owner of one modest boat sent a €10,000 donation but the tycoons and oligarchs failed to come up with a centime.
Barasc told the local edition of the news outlet Var-Martin: “They said it wasn’t their problem. That’s not true. On the bigger boats last year we saved an eight-month-old baby. We also saved three youngsters caught on rocks – not a word of thanks, even from their father. Nothing! It’s almost as if it’s their right. It’s great to shower the young ladies with a bottle of €50,000 Cristal champagne, but they could be a little more restrained and help us a little more.
“We asked all the owners of important boats. No reply, except one promise never kept. A lone boat, far from being the biggest, gave €10,000. If 30 people had done the same we could have had our new lifeboat quicker.”
Frédéric Saveuse, the deputy president of the Saint-Tropez lifeboat station, said: “We sent a personal letter to the 100 biggest businesses in the Var [department]. We sent another letter to the 10 richest French people, owners of both a vessel and a property here. In total we had two replies. It’s frustrating.”
Barasc said he hoped his “angry outburst” had made people realise that the lifeboat service needed donations. “We are run by volunteers and we have to find the money ourselves to run the service from A to Z. It’s not just saving people at sea, we get called to fires, evacuations, and we do training in schools and address pollution issues.
“We have wasted two years to change the lifeboat because we didn’t have the money and the result is our old boat broke down and is out of action for seven weeks. It’s distressing.”
Last year, the port’s lifeboat went out 87 times, and 78 of the rescues (90%) happened between 15 June and 15 September, the popular holiday season for the French Riviera. The immobilised lifeboat is the only vessel in the area capable of taking to sea in all conditions to pull in bigger vessels.
The SNSM said it had a semi-rigid boat and could call on neighbouring lifeboats in a serious emergency.
A member of the organisation said they had been looking at the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Association for inspiration on how to raise funds.
Barsac said: “In France, only 3% of boat owners donate to the lifeboat service, unlike in the UK where I believe it is 85%. People don’t realise it’s different. Now my outburst seems to have woken up people and things are moving. Hopefully, now we will come up with the money for the new boat.”