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Payroll Challenges Arise for Crewmembers of Russian Megayachts

Dilbar
Dilbar (file image courtesy of the shipbuilder)

Published Mar 9, 2022 6:36 PM by The Maritime Executive

The crew of the Russian-owned megayacht Dilbar have reportedly been released from their duties due to challenges in completing payroll processing, according to Bloomberg. Dilbar is currently in shipyard for a refit in Hamburg, and a small skeleton crew from the yard will remain on board as caretakers. 

“We have tried all avenues to find a solution to keep the team in place, and protect our positions, but have reached the end of the road of possibilities,” Dilbar's master said in a message shared with Bloomberg. 

The $600 million Dilbar is the largest personal yacht in the world by volume, measuring in at nearly 16,000 GT. German authorities have said that she will not be released to her owner without proper procedures, in keeping with EU sanctions on the Russian business elite.

The Dilbar is owned by Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, one of 26 associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin who were sanctioned by the EU last week. Usmanov owns Russian metals conglomerate Metalloinvest, media company Kommersant and mobile-phone provider Megafon, among other holdings. 

The oligarch-owned yacht Amore Vero has also been seized by French authorities at the port of La Ciotat, and the hunt is on for other luxury vessels. Many of these private ships have relocated to friendlier jurisdictions, and AIS tracking shows at least five near the Maldives, where there is no extradition treaty with the United States. 

The sanctions dragnet is also drawing scrutiny to vessels that do not have a known connection with Russian owners. The megayacht Scheherazade, currently located at a small port in Tuscany, is under investigation by Italy's financial police; her master told the New York Times that the ship's paperwork will satisfy the investigators and clear up any "rumors and speculations." The Flying Fox, one of the largest and most expensive yachts in the world, has been boarded twice by French customs authorities in Guadeloupe, according to FranceInfo - but without any results. Both vessels are owned by anonymous holding companies, a standard procedure in the world of yachting, and determining the true beneficial owners may require sophisticated investigative capabilities. 

Russia's megayacht owners may also have a new practical challenge going forward, according to Yacht Watch columnist Alex Finley. Their high-end vessels depend upon specialized maintenance yards and parts suppliers in western nations, where they cannot go for fear of asset seizure. "These are incredibly technological machines which require enormous amounts of service and upkeep and that know-how, and those services and shipyards are all here in Europe and the United States," Finley told Yahoo Finance.

The yacht Solaris, connected to the oligarch Roman Abramovich, was undergoing work at such a yard in Barcelona at the time of the invasion. She departed the facility on Tuesday, according to AIS data, and is now off Sardinia, headed eastwards at cruising speed. Abramovich is not on allied sanctions lists yet, but analysts expect that he could be added soon; he has already made plans to sell his UK properties and his $4 billion stake in the FC Chelsea football club, widely seen as preemptive moves.