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Megayachts racing across oceans show oligarchs’ desperation

May 8, 2022, 2:43 PM UTC

Before the $325 million Amadea megayacht was thrust into a legal tussle in the South Pacific, the luxury vessel that the U.S. government claims belongs to billionaire Suleiman Kerimov embarked on an 18-day journey on its way from the Caribbean to Fiji, likely running up a fuel bill north of $500,000.

There’s speculation the superyacht was making its way to the Russian port of Vladivostok before authorities in Fiji seized it at the request of U.S. officials. The Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russia has triggered rounds of financial sanctions by Washington D.C. and its allies that are aimed at punishing hundreds of oligarchs and business tycoons close to President Vladimir Putin. Various governments have gone after moguls’ villas, planes and pleasure boats—seizing more than a dozen multimillion-dollar megayachts. 

Want to interact with a tracker of yachts tied to sanctioned Russians? You can here: https://insights.spire.com/maritime/sanctioned-russian-tycoons-yacht-tracker

That’s sent luxury vessels racing across oceans to locales that aren’t as likely to impose or enforce sanctions. Working with Spire Global Inc., an analytics firm that uses nanosatellites to collect data, Bloomberg News has been tracking the longest trips of yachts connected to Russians tycoons on sanctions lists.

Track the three longest journeys here: https://insights.spire.com/maritime/sanctioned-russian-tycoons-yacht-tracker?mmsi=319112900,319143000,319168400

Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Amadea has undertaken the longest journey and at least five other superyachts have logged voyages of some 5,000 nautical miles in their quest to reach destinations considered safe from seizures, including Turkey and Russia.

“In the past few months, we’ve seen the yachts of sanctioned Russian oligarchs travel to places they historically haven’t gone and chart more miles than they typically do,” said Simão Oliveira, a Spire web and application developer who built the yacht tracker. 

All told, the Amadea has sailed about 8,358 nautical miles since Feb. 24, clocking nearly half of the total miles it’s traveled in the past year, according to Spire’s analysis.

The Amadea, which features a helipad, mosaic-tiled pool and lobster tank, had been moored off the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten since around Christmas and was still there when Russia began its armed conflict in Ukraine. 

On March 12, the yacht began moving west and eventually passed through the Panama Canal, according to vessel-tracking data analyzed by Bloomberg News. From there, it headed northwest to Mexico, where it arrived at the port in Manzanillo on the country’s west coast on March 24. It anchored there for less than 24 hours—so brief that it was likely a fueling stop, said Sam Tucker, head of superyachts for maritime data provider VesselsValue

The 348-foot long Amadea then made a beeline for Fiji at a cruising speed of 13 miles an hour and arrived in the port of Lautoka on April 12, apparently without the necessary permits. Fiji won a court order a week later to prevent the ship from leaving after it received a request for mutual legal assistance from the U.S. 

Fiji’s High Court this week gave the green light for U.S. and local authorities to seize the Amadea. Counsel representing the ship’s registered owner, Millemarin Investments Ltd., lost an appeal to stay the order, and says the ship is owned by another Russian tycoon—not gold billionaire Kerimov as the U.S. government claims. Kerimov, worth about $15.8 billion, was sanctioned by the U.K. and the European Union in March for his ties to Putin. He was on the U.S. sanctions list in 2018.

“These yachts seem to be looking for comfortable jurisdictions where they can hide out: Seychelles, Maldives, Dubai, Fiji—expecting them to be far enough from the reach of the sanctions,” said Ian Ralby, chief executive of I.R. Consilium, a maritime security consultancy. “In some cases, they’re finding once they get there that they were mistaken to think these countries would be onboard with letting a Russian yacht be unbothered. They’re finding that there really is no comfortable safe haven for them.”

The Amadea’s quest for safe shores was an expensive one. The Cayman Islands-flagged ship can sail about 10,000 nautical miles on a full tank—enough for its whirlwind voyage from the Caribbean to Fiji, said Denis Suka, a yachting influencer known as the Yacht Mogul who charters and helps sell vessels for clients. The yacht can carry 392,000 liters (104,000 gallons) of fuel and a full tank would cost its Russian owner about $530,000 at current diesel prices in Europe, according to Suka.

Clio

Clio, a $65 million yacht tied to Oleg Deripaska, the Russian aluminum billionaire whose connections to Putin have also put him on sanctions lists, logged the second-most miles since the invasion of Ukraine with trips totaling 7,374 nautical miles. The 239-foot yacht was in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean as scrutiny around Deripaska and other oligarchs close to Russia’s president swirled after war broke out. 

Deripaska, who has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018, is owner of an industrial conglomerate that includes a major provider of military equipment to Russia, according to the EU. The bloc sanctioned him in April on the same day it targeted Putin’s adult daughters.

A spokesperson for Deripaska said the EU sanctions against him are misguided and based on false information. While the tycoon has a minor stake in the industrial conglomerate, the companies have sold off military assets as far back as 2019 and currently do not produce any military equipment, according to the spokesperson. 

The billionaire also doesn’t own the Clio, the spokesperson said. SuperYacht Fan, which researches and investigates yacht ownership structures of the ultra wealthy, lists Deripaska as owner of the Clio. Ownership of megayachts is often opaque and involves shell companies. 

Clio, which sleeps 18 and has its own elevator, was on the move March 20. It broadcast it was headed to Dubai, before making a U-turn south, returned to the Maldives and then headed on a 3,000-mile journey northwest through the Suez Canal, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It was last seen in the Black Sea beyond Istanbul, where a number of Russian ports would be within reach before its automatic identification system stopped broadcasting its location April 18.

The Clio carries 250,000 liters of fuel on board. A full tank would cost close to $340,000.

Nord

The 465-foot Nord—a $500 million floating palace that features two helipads, a cinema and 20 luxury cabins—is reportedly owned by sanctioned Russian steel billionaire Alexey Mordashov. The ship has logged about 6,701 nautical miles in the period—mostly on its voyage to get back home to Russia’s Vladivostok port in March.

The vessel had been in the Maldives and Seychelles over the winter. It left the Seychelles on March 12 and cruised toward Sri Lanka—though it took an unusual 90 degree left turn before arriving. “Perhaps this was a last minute decision to pick up provisions or spare parts,” VesselsValue’s Tucker said. The yacht arrived in Vladivostok April 11, where it’s still docked and transmitting its location, Bloomberg-compiled data show.

The boat carries 345,000 liters of fuel, and a full tank for its Russia trip would cost about $465,000, according to Suka.

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