Is seizing Russian super yachts legal or not? The answers of a maritime lawyer
- 1 April 2022
Sanctions against Russia are shaking the super yacht industry. In reaction to the war that Russia has waged against Ukraine, the international community has enacted “sanctions”, the isolation of Russia from the world economy and, in some cases, the seizure of assets belonging to Russian oligarchs abroad.
In the port of Hamburg, for example, local sources state that the mega yacht Dilbar, belonging to the Russian billionaire, Alisher Usmanov, has been seized by the European Union. And two days later, that same mega yacht, 156 metres long and worth nearly 600 million dollars, was seized by the German government,
Dilbar is well known in Sardinia. Usually, it can be seen in the waters of the Emerald Coast, where we had also photographed it. Its owner, Alisher Usmanov is also an honorary citizen of Arzachena. The Russian oligarch, in addition to having the fourth longest yacht in the world, also owns a number of properties in the Emerald Coast town (which has symbolically given him the key to the city), and in Sardinia he is well liked after having donated half a million euros to the Region to fight against Covid.
In some ports, a sort of stampede has begun of docked mega yachts, even though there are very few countries (especially on the sea) where they could dock without running into UN sanctions. There is also the problem of the crews, who, in many cases, have lost their jobs from one day to the next. The same happened to the service personnel (keepers, security, gardeners, etc) working in the Russian villas along the Emerald Coast.
The negative repercussions brought on by the war in the Ukraine for the super yacht sector has been discussed in Italy during the conference, “Road to Expo Dubai – Nautica, la grande bellezza della Liguria” organised by Regione Liguria in Palazzo della Borsa in Genova.
One of the speakers, the chairman of Confindustria Nautica, Saverio Cecchi, expressed “concerns”, while also explaining that the trade association cannot currently predict the impact on the supply chain.
So now we wait. “Now – said Giovanna Vitelli, vice president of Azimut Benetti Group – it is too early to say what will happen. There will certainly be an impact on boating. Russia is the second most important market after the United States for the boating industry, so it is inevitable that there will be large repercussions.”
“I can’t predict what will happen – repeated Vitelli – but every moment I hope that negotiations will change the outcome of the conflict, so I don’t want to commit to saying anything. For the moment the feedback we have from our clients is to wait, so to not make any decisions but take some time to see what happens.”
In addition to the construction of new mega yachts, negative repercussions could also affect “satellite” activities, from on board crew, to refitting, as noted by Barbara Amerio, Chief Executive Officer for Permare. “I think there could also be a significant impact – she explained during the conference in Genova – on the crew of these vessels and also on the refitting sector.”
There is no use hiding the fact that Russians are the majority of yacht owners. “The Russian market – noted Vincenzo Poerio, Chief Executive Officer for Tankoa Yachts – is an important market for large yachts, remember that out of all the rich men in Russia, 50% of them have a boat built. The most important impact, if there is one, will be on large boats. There are many Russian clients who buy smaller boats, but the majority of the impact will fall onto the larger ones, even though Italy has a much smaller slice of the Russian market compared to Northern Europe.”
Negative repercussions might also affect Liguria, one of the top regions in Italy for the boating industry. “What is happening – said the governor, Giovanni Toti – does not excuse us from doing our jobs, and it is even more so our duty to roll up our sleeves and work even harder so things go better. Certainly sanctions against Russia will also have an impact in Liguria, but I believe it is everyone’s duty to keep doing what we do best: go out to sea, build good ships and try and sell them.”
9% of super yacht owners as of 2021 were Russian, a percentage superseded only by Americans. But considering the macro areas, eastern European owners, including Russians and Ukrainians, are 18%. Russian owners are also in second place regarding new build mega yachts, with 13.2% of the market share for over 40 metres in 2021-2025.