U.S. Justice Department Sails Away With Russian Megayacht Amadea

Amadea departs Fiji under new management and a new flag, June 7 (Anthony Coley / DOJ)

Published Jun 7, 2022 2:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

After weeks of legal wrangling, the Russian-owned megayacht Amadea has been seized by American authorities, reflagged in the United States, re-crewed with new mariners and sailed out of the harbor at Lautoka, Fiji. 

The Amadea is a 350-foot motor yacht built in Germany in 2016. U.S. authorities believe that her beneficial owner is the sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov, a billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Amadea entered Fijian waters in mid-April, the U.S. filed a request for her seizure with local courts and sent FBI agents to carry out enforcement. 

The yacht's holding company, Millemarin Investments, appealed the seizure order and claimed that the yacht was owned by a different, non-sanctioned Russian businessman. The case worked its way up through the country's court system over the course of the following month, and Fiji's Supreme Court issued a final ruling Tuesday giving custody of the vessel to the U.S. government. 

"The court accepted the validity of the US warrant and agreed that issues concerning money laundering and ownership need to be decided in the court of original jurisdiction, in this case, the US District Court of Columbia. The Amadea has been handed over to US authorities and will now leave Fiji," said Christopher Pryde, Fiji's director of public prosecutions, in a statement.

As a practical matter, the court ruling relieves Fiji of the financial burden of maintaining an ultra-expensive detained megayacht. The $300 million vessel is reportedly filled with "precious woods and delicate silk fabrics," among other items - not the hard-wearing, easy-care trappings of a merchant vessel. 

The Amadea is now in U.S. custody, and the U.S. will be obligated to maintain her, but the vessel's ultimate fate is unclear. The Biden administration has proposed a legislative package that would allow the government to pursue asset forfeiture and sell sanctioned Russian assets on an expedited basis, then use the funds to help pay for the cost of the war effort. The House has passed a separate bill that encourages the administration to pursue forfeiture - but without any further legal authorization. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has stated that current U.S. law does not allow the sale of sanctioned Russian assets to pay for Ukraine's defense and reconstruction, and many legal scholars have weighed in to agree.