Since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, international authorities have seized or are in the process of seizing tens of luxury yachts, pieces of high-end real estate, private jets and other luxury assets from Russian oligarchs known for their ties with President Putin. The international list of sanctions includes former multi-billionaire and UK-based Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, whose personal collection of uber-expensive toys includes Eclipse and Solaris, two of the priciest and most spectacular superyachts ever built.
These two, along with several others currently flying under the Bermuda flag, are about to get mothballed, claims a new report in the Daily Mail. Neither Eclipse nor Solaris have been seized as of the time of press (one is floating in the East Mediterranean, while the other is docked in a Turkish port), but they might as well be. Sources claim Bermuda is moving to remove the registration for the flag of convenience they’re sailing under.
First things first, though: the media outlet says that both Eclipse and Solaris are sailing under the Bermuda flag, but that’s not accurate. Eclipse is, while Solaris is registered in the Cayman Islands, which means the mothballing, a term used for ships when they’re retired from active service and put into protective storage, would only apply to the former. This would be forced mothballing, since the megayacht wouldn’t be put into storage, but blocked from sailing.
So, while the owner wouldn’t lose ownership over the yacht, it would still be pointless, since there’d be no way for him to move it elsewhere. Re-registering the flag would be an option, but not in this case, when most countries are turning their backs to Russian owners.
Many Russian oligarchs have chosen Bermuda and or the Cayman Islands to register their yachts to bury their connection to them and avoid higher taxes. Abramovich did, too, but Bermuda is said to be caving to criticism that it continued to allow oligarchs to fly the country’s flag of convenience.
“The whole fleet is under the Bermuda flag and they are in the process of being de-registered,” explains a source. “We don’t know when it will happen. All we know is that it’s imminent. Without a flag, you’re not allowed to sail. The captain would be arrested. There’s also a fuel shortage. When you pay millions of pounds to refuel boats, it goes through banking channels and it gets rejected.”
Being stuck in a port wouldn’t be half as bad, if crew onboard could still get supplies and regular wages – but they’re not. Derek Byrne, head of the yacht division of seafarers’ union Nautilus International, tells the publication that crew members onboard Abramovich’s vessels (he has five superyachts in total) have complained they haven’t been paid since late February. Supplies have also been cut short, with contractors refusing to pick up new assignments and jobs out of fear financial compensation wouldn’t go through.
In short, it’s easy to scoff at the thought of just another multi-billionaire having their toys taken away by force, for something they may or may not have done. It’s also easy to applaud to decision to impose sanctions against oligarchs by stripping of their ill-begotten gains, to paraphrase a statement from the U.S. government.
But the reality of sanctions is that it’s not just the oligarchs paying the price when they lose their fancy assets or scuttle to hide them away on friendlier territories. The reality is that crew members and captains, contractors and third-parties, and even the authorities handling the seizure of such a massive and costly asset as a megayacht have to chip in, unwillingly so.