The Hunt for Russian Oligarchs’ Mega-Yachts Is On

Unfortunately for Russia’s billionaire class, these outrageously massive vessels aren’t exactly easy to hide.
Super yacht Dilbar, owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, anchors alongside the cruise ship Queen Victoria on June 08, 2020 in Weymouth, United Kingdom.
Super yacht Dilbar, owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, anchors alongside the cruise ship Queen Victoria on June 08, 2020 in Weymouth, United Kingdom. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster / Getty Images)

The hunt is on for Russian billionaires’ mega-yachts. So far, it’s not going well for the oligarchs. 

The U.S. and Europe have ratcheted up sanctions against the ultra-wealthy members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Western countries are promising to track down and seize what U.S. President Joe Biden has called their “ill-begotten gains”—including their ridiculously fancy boats.  

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Unfortunately for Russia’s billionaire class, these massive vessels aren’t exactly easy to hide. They’re flashy to the point of being absurd. 

A 280-foot, $120 million yacht belonging to one of Vladimir Putin’s oldest and closest advisers, Igor Sechin, has been seized on France’s Cote d’Azure, French authorities said Thursday. 

Sechin has been at Putin’s elbow for decades, and oversaw the rise of Russia’s national oil behemoth, Rosneft, as the company’s chairman. French authorities stopped his yacht, the Amore Vero, from leaving the Mediterranean port town of La Ciotat, France’s Finance Ministry said in a statement on its website

An even bigger, 512-foot mega-yacht, which according to the U.S. Treasury Department belongs to a super-wealthy Putin-friendly metals tycoon named Alisher Usmanov, appears to be stuck in the port of Hamburg, after a local German official told Der Spiegel that the port would only allow the transport of goods to Russia with individual customs permits. 

“You can assume that from now on no more yachts will go out,” Michael Westhagemann, senator for economic affairs in Hamburg, told the German outlet.  

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The vessel’s exact status remains unclear, however. A spokesperson for the Hamburg Authority for Economics and Innovation denied that the vessel has been outright seized by authorities, contradicting an earlier report in Forbes published Wednesday. "No yachts were confiscated in the port of Hamburg,” the spokesperson said. 

Usmanov has now been sanctioned by the U.S., UK, and the European Union—putting the likelihood that he may ever enjoy another lazy promenade on one of the ship’s four decks, or a dip in its 82-foot pool, in doubt.  

Sechin and Usmanov are hardly the only mega-rich Russians with reason to be worried about their fancy boats. 

There are a total of 34 yachts, worth a combined $3.9 billion, owned by Russian billionaires and billionaires born in Russia, according to a tally conducted by Forbes and the maritime data company VesselsValue. Mega-yachts are often owned through non-transparent offshore companies, which makes determining their precise ownership difficult. 

The Dilbar, which is reportedly owned by Usmanov, is registered in the Cayman Islands. 

It was the largest in the world by gross tonnage when it was delivered in 2016, according to the ship’s manufacturer. It’s fallen a bit in the rankings since then, to become, reportedly, only the third-biggest yacht in the world by volume as of 2020. 

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Still, it’s huge. The ship has room for 80 crew members and 40 passengers. It’s 82-foot pool was reportedly the largest ever installed in a yacht as of 2016. The vessel boasts an elevator, a gym, and two separate helipads. 

Asked for comment, a representative for Usmanov sent a link to the Der Spiegel article in which the local authorities said no yachts have been officially seized, and added: “Here is a denial of Hamburg authorities that may be helpful.” He declined to further explain what might be going on with the yacht.

Usmanov has publicly protested that the sanctions against him are “unfair.” 

"On 28 February 2022 I became the target of restrictive measures imposed by the European Union I believe that such decision is unfair, and the reasons employed to justify the sanctions are a set of false and defamatory allegations damaging my honor, dignity, and business reputation," Usmanov wrote in a statement released Tuesday.  

His comments were posted to the website of the International Fencing Federation, where Usmanov, a former fencer, reportedly once served as president. 

Sechin’s yacht is relatively modest by comparison to the Dilbar. It’s been valued at roughly $120 million and reportedly can accommodate a crew of 28 and 14 guests. 

The Amore Vero arrived in the French port on Jan. 3 for repairs, and had been scheduled to stay until April 1, according to French officials. “At the moment the inspection was carried out, the boat was readying to weigh anchor urgently, without having finished the planned work,” the Finance Ministry said.