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US, allies seizing luxury yachts of Russian oligarchs in sanctions for war on Ukraine

As economic reprisals continue against Russia, super-yachts worth millions are impounded in European ports to punish Putin allies.

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The U.S. and its allies are seizing Russian billionaires' luxury yachts – some of them longer than a football field and equipped with helipads, swimming pools and wine cellars – as part of sanctions against Russia for its brutal war on Ukraine.

At least 13 ships, with a combined value of more than $2 billion, are reported to have been impounded since March 2. Though value estimates vary, the most expensive one is assessed at $600 million.

The vessels are owned by wealthy oligarchs, Russian businessmen with ties to President Vladimir Putin. U.S. and European Union sanctions, intended to put financial pressure on Russia, are freezing the assets of Putin associates. Those assets include bank accounts, property and possessions, including aircraft and yachts.

Seizing yachts, however, usually comes with costly and time-consuming problems for their owners and the impounding authority, and it can result in damage to the ships as well.

Whose yachts have been seized?

Amore Vero

  • Size: 280 ft.
  • Value: $120 million
  • Owned by: Igor Sechin, CEO, Russian state oil company Rosneft; sanctioned Feb. 28
  • Seized in: France
  • When: March 2

Lena

  • Size: 126 ft.
  • Value: $8 million
  • Owned by: Gennady Timchenko, energy magnate; sanctioned March 24
  • Seized in: Italy
  • When: March 5

Lady M

  • Size: 215 ft.
  • Value: Up to $70 million
  • Owned by: Alexei Mordashov, Russia's richest businessman; sanctioned Feb. 28
  • Seized in: Italy
  • When: March 7

Sailing Yacht A

  • Size: 469 ft.
  • Value: $580 million
  • Owned by: Andrey Melnichenko, fertilizer magnate; sanctioned March 9
  • Seized in: Italy
  • When: March 7

Valerie

  • Size: 279 ft.
  • Value: $140 million
  • Owned by: Sergey Chemezov, former KGB officer who heads Rostec, a Russian industrial and military conglomerate; sanctioned April 28
  • Seized in: Spain
  • When: March 14

Lady Anastasia

  • Size: 157 ft.
  • Value: $8 million
  • Owned by: Alexander Mikheyev, a former KGB officer who heads Rosoboronoexport, the Russian weapons exporting group; sanctioned March 15
  • Seized in: Spain
  • When: March 15

Crescent

  • Size: 443 ft.
  • Value: $600 million
  • Owned by: Unknown; Reuters reports Igor Sechin is believed to be owner
  • Seized in: Spain
  • When: March 16

The Royal Romance

  • Size: 302 ft.
  • Value: $200 million
  • Owned by: Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of Ukraine's main pro-Russia party; sanctioned Feb. 19
  • Seized in: Croatia
  • When: March 16

The Little Bear

  • Size: 56 ft.
  • Value: $22 million
  • Owned by: Alexey Kuzmichev, co-founder of Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest private bank; sanctioned March 15
  • Seized in: France
  • When: March 16

Axioma

  • Size: 236 ft.
  • Value: $75 million
  • Owned by: Dmitry Pumpyansky, owner of TMK, Russia's largest steel pipe maker; sanctioned March 15
  • Seized in: Gibraltar, a British territory
  • When: March 21

The Big Bear

  • Size: 85 ft.
  • Value: $77 million
  • Owned by: Alexey Kuzmichev, co-founder of Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest private bank; sanctioned March 15
  • Seized in: France
  • When: March 21

Phi

  • Size: 192 ft.
  • Value: $50 million
  • Owned by: Vitaly Vasilievich Kochetkov, founder of mobile network Motiv Telecom; not on the UK sanctions list
  • Seized in: Great Britain
  • When: March 29

Tango

  • Size: 255 ft.
  • Value: $90 million
  • Owned by: Viktor Vekselberg, who heads the Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate with interests in aluminum, oil, energy, telecoms and other industries; sanctioned March 11
  • Seized in: Spain
  • When: April 4

It's expensive to seize a yacht

"We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets," President Joe Biden said while announcing sanctions in his State of the Union address March 1, addressing Russian oligarchs.

Seizing a yacht prevents an owner from using it. The impounding authority must first prove the yacht belongs to an oligarch, which is often difficult because many owners hide behind shell companies. Once ownership is established, the seized yacht must stay in port.

It also has to stay in the water. Most of the yachts are too big to be put in dry storage facilities. The 433-foot-long Crescent, for example, is almost half the length of the RMS Titanic.

Yacht owners are technically responsible for maintaining their ships even after they're seized. Such maintenance can cost millions of dollars a year. Sometimes owners refuse to pay.

It's often unclear who pays for upkeep of the ships while legal battles are being fought. In France, for example, La Ciotat Shipyards said it doesn't know where to send mooring fees for the yacht Amore Vero.

Without maintenance, there's a risk of corrosion. Lengthy exposure can result in hull damage for neglected ships. Even long-term sunlight can weaken hatch and window seals and allow rain to enter.

If they sink, yachts can become environmental hazards.

What happens to seized yachts?

Any asset that is seized under sanction usually isn't confiscated. Yacht owners generally retain ownership, but their ships are confined to port and can't be moved or sold.

Governments must connect a seized asset to a crime before the asset can be confiscated. Proving that oligarchs committed a crime and connecting their yachts to the crime could be difficult, according to legal scholars.

Oligarchs will likely fight in courts to reclaim their impounded vessels. Some court cases could last years.

In Congress, a bipartisan bill that would transfer seized Russian assets to Ukrainian rebuilding efforts was introduced by four members of the House on March 22.

40 other yachts are docked in limbo

Germany: The 512-foot yacht Dilbar, owned by Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov, hasn't been officially seized, but it remains in Hamburg and is not permitted to leave, Bloomberg reported March 2. The yacht is valued at $600 million.

Norway: The 223-foot yacht Ragnar also hasn't been seized, but it is stranded in Narvik after Norwegian suppliers refused to sell it fuel in mid-March. The yacht is owned by Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB officer and confidant of Putin's.

Finland: The Finnish government is holding 21 luxury yachts, all in winter storage, while officials determine whether they're owned by Russian oligarchs. The detainment was reported on March 23. The government is also holding a 105-foot yacht believed to be owned by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The Netherlands: The Dutch government impounded 14 Russian-owned yachts in shipyards around the country, Marine Industry News reported April 6. Twelve of them are under construction. The Netherlands is considered a global hub for yacht building and maintenance.

Italy: Authorities are trying to identify the owner of  the Scheherazade, a 460-foot yacht that may be owned by Putin. The ship, estimated to be worth $700 million, is docked in the town of Massa in Tuscany.

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SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Associated Press; Marine Industry News; superyachts.com

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