For green and country

As Prince Charles and Camilla embark on their tour of the Caribbean, the royal green credentials are again being questioned. Exactly how much of a sacrifice does chartering a 245ft motor yacht entail, ponders JIM GILCHRIST

WHETHER or not the crew of the motor yacht Leander will be removing their caps when abaft the mainmast – once etiquette on the Royal Yacht Britannia when royalty was aboard – they will have their work cut out over the next ten days. This is because their vessel, one of the most expensive and luxurious British-owned yachts on the charter market, is to accommodate Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall during their royal visit to the Caribbean and some of the more far-flung members of the British Commonwealth.

The use of the 245ft German-built Leander, charted for the tour from its owner, car-park millionaire Sir Donald Gosling, is being broadcast as an example of Charles's commitment to reducing his carbon footprint. The Prince's household has attracted criticism in the past for extolling environmental awareness while registering a major and damaging carbon footprint through his travels, and Charles is clearly trying to practise a little more of what he preaches.

The Prince and his entourage, around 14 (not counting security staff), flew out to Tobago last night on a scheduled flight, and will visit the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia, Montserrat and Jamaica, using the yacht instead of chartered aircraft for island hopping.

So far as downsizing is concerned, certainly the Leander's crew of 25 doesn't quite match the 260 staff who once manned the 412ft Britannia – now in retirement as a popular visitor attraction in Leith. But they can hardly be described as slumming it: Leander remains one of the most expensive British-owned yachts on the charter market and, until the launch of the 280ft Greek-built Annaliesse four years ago, was the most expensive charter yacht in the world.

The current low-season rate for chartering Leander is in the area of 290,000 per week (rising to some 320,000 in high season) but, according to a spokesperson for Clarence House, the Prince's London residence, the Government "certainly did get a bit of a discount off the usual hire costs". However, the visit's impact on the environment was also a factor, she adds: "It was clear early on that, in terms of carbon emissions, the option of going out on a scheduled flight then using a boat was going to be significantly lower in terms of carbon emissions than chartering planes. We'd would have needed to charter two different aircraft, because Montserrat will only take a very small plane."

While conceding that the Leander is a big boat, she states that the carbon emissions are still "considerably lower than chartering aircraft".

Despite Charles's efforts in recent years to render his activities and those of his household carbon neutral – moves ranging from vowing personally to avoid using private helicopters and jets whenever possible to introducing "green" electricity at his Highgrove estate and encouraging members of his staff to use bicycles – he has still come in for stick from environmental campaigners, while his brother Prince Andrew, Duke of York, in his capacity as UK Special Representative for International Trade and investment, has earned himself the nickname "Air Miles Andy" for his extensive international travel.

Last year Chris Goodall, the author of the award-winning book How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, used public records of the Royal household's activities to calculate that Charles's activities over the previous year must have generated almost 1,600 tonnes of emissions, the equivalent of more than 600 cars on British roads over a similar period. Flights taken by Charles and Camilla alone, he estimated, had generated more than 800 tonnes of .

Asked whether he thinks the adoption of a motor yacht rather than islandhopping flights for the Caribbean tour was any more than a cosmetic exercise, Goodall responds: "At 245ft, that's a big yacht. It would take some time to work out whether it's better than flying in carbon terms but, generally, something that big isn't going to save much. It's great that the Prince is starting to take this issue seriously, though.

"Even gestures like this are beginning to show people that the days of unlimited flying are rapidly coming to an end."

Charles and Camilla's Caribbean tour has been orchestrated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to "reinforce Britain's ties" with the islands, according to Clarence House, with items on the agenda including environmental protection, sustainable development and tourism and youth opportunity. One might wonder how high green issues come in these often poor societies' priorities, but it should be remembered that over the past few years, the number of hurricanes hitting these islands, sometimes with catastrophic results, has risen markedly, so climate change has become a very pertinent issue.

"The environment is now very important in the Caribbean," adds the Clarence House representative. "The Prince will be taking part in various discussions and events related to that."

Poverty and community development are further issues of concern and, on Trinidad, Charles will visit a project supported by Youth Business International, an international offshoot of his Prince's Trust charity that provides grants for business start-up. As well as the inevitable round of diplomatic meetings and receptions, the itinerary takes in numerous sites that resonate with the Charles's green credentials, including the Asa Wright Nature Centre, deep within Trinidad's Arima Valley rainforest. Tobago's Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences is also on the schedule and, on Montserrat, the party will see the observatory which monitors the island's Soufrire Hills Volcano. After a lengthy dormant period, it erupted in 1995, destroying the capital, Plymouth, causing widespread devastation and mass evacuation.

In Jamaica, the Prince will also visit an urban poverty project at Rose Town, a deprived area of Kingston, which he was involved in initiating during his last visit there in 2000. During these visits, the Leander will not only provide seaborne royal accommodation but also host numerous receptions. Apart from its main saloon, the vessel boasts two master suites and eight other cabins, two of which can convert into staterooms. If the boat does score in reducing emissions, it remains a pretty lavish way of saving the planet.

Someone who has been on board the vessel is "royal-watcher" Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of the magazine Majesty, who recalls the boat as being impressive, if not quite as grand as Britannia. "I was on board the Leander for a party that Donald Gosling gave, off Barbados, but that was few years ago and I think it will have been redecorated since then. I don't know what it's like now, but when I on it, it was as pretty hideously decorated.

"One thing I'm certain of: they'll have got a fantastic deal (on the charter], because Donald Gosling is a real supporter of the monarchy and a very generous man."

Seward, who reckons that the "Green Prince" is trying to practise what he preaches, "up to a point", believes that Royal visits to outlying areas of the Commonwealth remain very important. The Queen has visited Jamaica six times during her reign, first in 1953 during her first commonwealth tour and most recently in 2002, during her Golden Jubilee celebrations. "The people there are still really old-fashioned about royalty; they're not critical and they'll line the streets," says Seward. "They like to feel that they're part of it all."

Nonetheless, Prince Charles's aides may be fretting during his scheduled visit to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston – last time he was there, he was apparently photographed wearing a back-to-front dreadlocks wig.

Can we expect a repeat performance? "I wouldn't know about that, it was before my time here," comes the discreet response from Clarence House.