The link between luxury yachts and philanthropy does not frequently make headlines.
But in the wake of a natural disaster in Vanuatu, Sam Bell and his yacht service organization are making waves, so to speak, by assisting in recovery and rebuilding efforts.
Mr. Bell founded Kaleva Yachting Services along with his wife, Jess, in 2009 to service yachts visiting Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific northeast of Australia.
“We have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful locals over the whole country. Both our boys were born here. This is our home,” he said In a recent interview. “Though Vanuatu is one of the poorest countries in the world, its people are extremely generous and kind.”
The Bell family is always looking for ways to help those on the island – and when Cyclone Pam struck this island nation in early March, and wreaked havoc on its inhabitants, the Bell family harnessed their resources to lend a hand.
Described in news media reports as the fiercest storm to hit anywhere since Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, Cyclone Pam left behind devastation all along the string of some 80 islands that make up Vanuatu. Reports indicate an estimated 3,300 people were left homeless and 24 lost their lives.
One significant barrier to lending assistance has been the difficulty of reaching the more remote islands with aid. That’s where the Bells, among others, have come into play.
“We assisted with both of the superyachts that traveled to Vanuatu to help with the relief,” Sam Bell says. “Jess did the shore support from Port Vila, and I was onboard talking to locals and assisting with the day-to-day efforts.”
Together, the two large private yachts – big enough to be termed "superyachts" – delivered some 85,000 liters of fresh water to people in need as they moved their way through the islands. Onboard teams also provided medical assistance and assessed damage that they reported to Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office.
“In the short term we believe we helped very much as we could get out to where help was needed very quickly,” Bell says. “This quick response made a huge difference to locals who had been left with nothing.”
Their efforts to visit some of the areas more difficult to reach, he says, allowed aid agencies to focus their efforts on easier-to-access areas.
The Bells are continuing to assist in the recovery – but have shifted their focus to projects that help locals repair their own water catchments and clean their water tanks.
Such support, Bell says, is all part of Kaleva’s commitment to support the culture and development of Vanuatu.
“We see Vanuatu as a growing superyacht destination. At the start of our business our goal was to help Vanuatu develop gracefully,” he says. “Now this is more important than ever. It is crucial that the locals keep their art and culture intact, especially now with so much outside influence coming in.”
The culture of Vanuatu draws yachts to visit the island nation, Bell says.
“This is why yachts want to come to Vanuatu,” he says. “Yachts can reach the outer remote islands and are a huge asset [by] providing income throughout the country, not just in the population centers.”
At the moment, the greatest need of Vanuatu is for disaster recovery, he says.
“Right now the locals need water, medical treatment, repairs ... so that is what we will do,” he says. “When they are back on their feet, we hope we can help them develop gracefully through better education and preservation of core values and culture.”
• For more information on Kaleva Yachting Services, visit www.kysvanuatu.com.