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Russian Yachts on the Run as the West Plays Repo Man

In the economic counterattack launched by the Western world against Russia for its savage invasion of Ukraine, the world has become a kind of repo man for yachts, and ordinary people are getting in on the hunt. A vessel tied to Vladimir Putin seems to be on the chopping block, and the fleet of extravagant, oligarch-owned vessels may be the result of funds embezzled from the Russian military, which some say is slowing its senseless assault on Ukraine.

“From Germany’s North Sea ports to the French Riviera, open season has been declared on superyachts,” the New York Times wrote. “Across Europe, authorities are hunting down luxury vessels tied to Russian oligarchs in the effort to inflict pain on President Vladimir Putin’s allies.”

Last week, the US Department of Justice announced the formation of the Task Force KleptoCapture, which will target the “proceeds from ‘the crimes of Russian oligarchs,'” according to NBC News. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” declared President Biden in last week’s State of the Union address, in the most unlikely pirate-rallying cry of all time.

In the crosshairs are Russian-owned yachts.

An estimated 7% to 10% of the global superyacht fleet is owned by Russians, Bloomberg said, attributing the statistic to industry watcher Superyacht Group.

Using sites like VesselFinder, MarineTraffic or SuperYachtFan — all of which use a vessel’s AIS signal — “casual fans of financial retribution are following the location of oligarchs’ ships and jets, often hoping to catch them on the run or docked in a country likely to seize them,” the Washington Post reported.

Yacht-tracking sleuths say that Russian-owned megayachts have become a clear object that people can focus their anger and attention on. “There’s a symbolic power that the yacht holds in the West’s campaign to rein in the power of Vladimir Putin and his global kleptocracy,” one yacht activist (yachtivist?) told the Post.

Here are some of the vessels that have been ensnared in the West’s repo campaign:

A superyacht believed to be linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently in a dry dock, and under international scrutiny, in Italy, according to the New York Times. The 459-ft, $700 million Scheherazade reportedly made trips to Sochi — said to be Putin’s pandemic getaway town — in the summers of 2020 and 2021.

Dilbar, one of the world’s biggest megayachts, belonging to Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, has apparently been seized in Hamburg, Germany, and the crew has been terminated, according to ForbesSuperYachtNews reported that some of Usmanov’s assets, including two of his helicopters and his private Airbus A340 plane, had been deregistered from their “home port” of the Isle of Man on March 3.

The 512-ft Dilbar in Barcelona in 2017.
© 2022 SuperYachtNews

Italian officials seized the famously ugly S/Y A, believed to belong to Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko, according to the Huffington Post. (Some years ago, we entertained a debate as to whether SV A was the largest superyacht of its time.)

Maybe it was the fashion police who sized the 468-ft A for crimes against every sailor’s eyes.
© 2022 Wikipedia

Back in 2010, we reported that Melnichenko was also the owner of the 394-ft motoryacht, also called A, which certainly has a similarly harsh aesthetic to S/Y A‘s. It’s not clear if the other A has been seized by authorities.

A, here on the Bay, back in the day — in 2010.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Rob Moore

Rounding out our tour of oligarchs, Latitude founder Richard Spindler wrote about Roman Abramovich, the embattled owner of the Chelsea Football Club, in 2009. “Abramovich’s navy includes the brand-new 525-ft Eclipse, which at $300 million is said to be both the largest and most expensive private yacht in the world. (Ridiculous.); the 282-ft Ecstasea, the largest Feadship ever built; the 370-ft Le Grand Bleu; and the 163-ft Sussurro, which is used as a tagalong yacht.”

Abramovich’s 458-ft Solaris was apparently on the run from the repo man, and “slipped out of Barcelona port [last week] where it was being maintained, and headed southeast,” according to the Evening Standard.

“Abramovich had to best six other bidders to get the 377-ft Pelorus [pictured],” Spindler wrote a decade ago. If you’re just trying to get away from it all, a superyacht may not be the way to go.
© 2022 Air Photo
“A former Russian foreign minister claimed that widespread corruption was among the reasons for the Russian military’s apparently poor performance in the invasion of Ukraine,” Business Insider reported.

“The Kremlin spent the last 20 years trying to modernize its military. Much of that budget was stolen and spent on megayachts in Cyprus. But as a military advisor you cannot report that to the president. So they reported lies to him instead,” the former foreign minister was quoted as saying.

A foreign-relations expert said that Russia’s rampant corruption meant that their troops were “going into battle in Ukraine with out-of-date rations, faulty equipment, and inadequate fuel supplies,” Insider reported.

The irony.

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