Russian Yachts in Refit Status Make a Tempting Target for Sanctions

sailing yacht A
The sailing yacht "A" (Feliz / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Mar 14, 2022 9:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

Western authorities are making gains in the pursuit of a fleet of sanctioned Russian megayachts - particularly the ones that cannot run away. But many of the suspect vessels are still finding ways to slip off to friendly jurisdictions, sometimes disabling AIS in order to mask their movements. 

Last week, authorities in Italy seized the three-masted yacht A, an iconic $580 million high-tech sailing vessel. Even if her crew had wanted to escape in a hurry, the A was in drydock, which typically indicates a reduced readiness for departure. On Friday, Italy's Guardia di Finanza impounded her for her connection to Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko, who was named to the EU sanctions list the same day. Melnichenko owns a large Russian fertilizer company, a coal-mining firm and Murmansk's commercial seaport. In a statement, a spokesperson said that he had no connection to the ongoing war in Ukraine and was an apolitical person. 

The same fate may await the yacht Tango, owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. She is presently moored alongside at a shipyard in Palma de Mallorca, and local media reports suggest that refit work has been under way on board. Vekselberg was added to the U.S. Treasury sanctions list on Friday, and Tango was specifically named as a blocked asset. The yacht is valued at about $90 million, according to the Treasury. 

The Scheherazade, a $700 million megayacht currently moored at Marina di Carrara, Italy, is under scrutiny for potential connections to a far more prominent member of the Russian ruling class - President Vladimir Putin. Putin's name has also been associated with a much smaller yacht, the Graceful, which slipped away from Hamburg for the Russian territory of Kaliningrad shortly before the invasion; however, U.S. intelligence officials believe that Scheherazade may also be connected to the Russian leader, according to the New York Times. Ownership is often difficult to prove for high-value megayachts, which are usually titled to an offshore holding company (or several), but the yacht's pattern of port calls in the Black Sea aligned with Putin's travel itinerary over the past two years. 

As with many other seized Russian yachts - like the Tango, the S/Y A, the Amore Vero, and the megayacht Dilbar - Scheherazade is in shipyard. The yard's operator told the Times that it believes the vessel has no connection with Putin. 

High-end Russian yachts that were not in a Western port or yard - or that managed to exit a yard period quickly when the conflict began, like Roman Abramovich's Solaris - are making way for friendlier jurisdictions. Solaris departed Barcelona before Abramovich was added to a UK sanctions list, and she called in Montenegro over the weekend. 

Many others have gone dark and turned off their AIS systems. The yacht Amadea, believed to be owned by sanctioned oligarch Suleyman Kerimov, was recently spotted at English Harbor, Antigua. Her presence was confirmed by satellite imaging, according to analyst H.I. Sutton, and she has since disappeared with no AIS signal.