Western authorities are making progress in their pursuit of a fleet of sanctioned Russian mega yachts, especially those who are unable to flee. However, many of the suspect vessels are still slipping away to friendlier jurisdictions, disabling AIS to conceal their movements.
The three-masted yacht A, a $580 million high-tech sailing craft, was confiscated by Italian authorities last week. Even if her crew had been desperate to get away, the A was in drydock, which signals a diminished preparedness for departure. On Friday, Italy’s Guardia di Finanza detained her relationship with Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko, who was placed on the EU sanctions lists the same day.
Melnichenko owns a major Russian fertiliser industry, a coal mining company, and the commercial port of Murmansk. A spokeswoman said in a statement that he was unaffiliated with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and that he was apolitical.
The yacht Tango, owned by Russian millionaire Viktor Vekselberg, may suffer the same fate. She is currently tied alongside a shipyard in Palma de Mallorca, where local media sources indicate that she is undergoing a refit. On Friday, Vekselberg was added to the US Treasury sanctions list, with Tango being listed as a prohibited asset. According to the Treasury, the yacht is worth around $90 million.
The Scheherazade, a $700 million mega yacht now docked in Marina di Carrara, Italy, is being investigated for possible ties to President Vladimir Putin, a significantly more powerful member of Russia’s ruling class. According to the New York Times, Putin’s name has also been linked to a much smaller boat, the Graceful, which sailed from Hamburg to the Russian region of Kaliningrad shortly before the invasion; nonetheless, US intelligence sources believe Scheherazade may also be linked to the Russian leader. The yacht’s pattern of port calls in the Black Sea corresponded with Putin’s travel itinerary during the past two years, making ownership difficult to show for high value megayachts that are normally titled to an offshore holding company (or several).
Scheherazade, like many other confiscated Russian yachts such as the Tango, S/Y A, Amore Vero, and the megayacht Dilbar, is in the shipyard. According to the New York Times, the yard’s operator believes the vessel has no ties to Putin.
High-end Russian yachts that were not in a Western port or yard when the dispute began – or those were able to escape a yard term promptly, such as Roman Abramovich’s Solaris – are relocating to more friendly countries. Solaris left Barcelona before Abramovich’s name was put to a UK sanctions list, and she spent the weekend in Montenegro.
Many others have shut off their AIS systems and gone black. Suleyman Kerimov, a sanctioned oligarch, is thought to own the yacht Amadea, which was reportedly observed in English Harbor, Antigua. According to analyst H.I. Sutton, her presence was confirmed by satellite imaging, and she has subsequently vanished with no AIS signal.