Russian yachts are having a Rotter-dam
Imagine spending €1.654bn ($1.682bn) on superyachts. What would your investment buy? One answer is 24 luxury vessels.
That is the combined value of 24 yachts under investigation by the Dutch customs authorities in connection with Russian ownership plus a further two seized after they were proved to be Russian-owned. Whilst under investigation, the vessels are forbidden from leaving Dutch waters.
Mark van Weeren, attorney, from law firm Blenheim, thinks the authorities have acted wisely. “It is only right that the yachts under investigation remain in the Netherlands until the conclusion,” van Weeren tells Superyacht Investor (SYI). “The government has every right to investigate the links to ownership of a sanctioned individual.”
International sanctions and local legislation prevent the movement of yachts linked to Russian ultimate beneficial owners (UBOs). Also, the Netherlands prohibits the export of goods valued at more than €300 ($305) to Russian individuals or businesses.
Some owners have relinquished possession of their contested vessel. Charlotte van Steenderen, partner, van Steenderen Mainport Lawyers tells SYI. “There have been some instances where the ownership of a vessel under investigation has transferred to a third party.” Scenarios like this are leading to lengthy investigations to uncover who owns what vessels.
The two vessels which were confirmed to be owned by individuals and businesses on the EU sanctions list are now effectively frozen. These yachts, which are reportedly relatively small, have a combined worth of just over $1.025m (€1m).
The Netherlands Customs says it has linked 22 shipyards and brokers to the vessels in question. Of that total, 18 are under construction, two in storage, five in maintenance and one used vessel was sold before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and was awaiting a ferry voyage to its new Russian owner.
In April it was disclosed that the owner of Heesen Yachts, Vagit Alekperov was sanctioned by the UK government. Alekperov, who bought Heesen in 2008 from its founder, owns the yard through a series of holding companies. Two Russian directors stood down after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Heesen said in a statement at the time: “Heesen only reports directly to its sole shareholder, Morcell Ltd. Heesen’s UBO [ultimate beneficiary owner] does not actively or directly manage our business in any capacity. We are financially independent and in good shape, with a strong order book and currently employ around 1,000 individuals in the Netherlands.”
As of May 18th, Heesen made a strategic move to transfer ownership to a Dutch foundation. The foundation is now acting as the full owner of the company, headed by board members Arthur Brouwer and Anjo Joldersma. Joldersma has been chaired of Heesen’s supervisory board since 2010 and Brouwer has served as Heesen’s CEO since 2016.
Meanwhile, it’s possible that some of the detained yachts under investigation do not have any links to Russian owners, according to van Weeren. “These people can always appeal to the European Commission if they end up on a list. The investigations are not penalties,” says van Weeren.
Some sanctioned individuals have appealed for sanctions to be lifted. Oligarch Alisher Usmanov appealed the decision to seize the now infamous $600m M/Y Dilbar (pictured). The largest yacht in the world by gross tonnage has been prominent in the media since its seizure on April 14th. Usmanov’s appeal was unsuccessful.
Industry experts have previously argued that governments which seize luxury vessels will be liable for any damages or maintenance incurred during their detention. “The yachts under investigation in this situation are a little different,” van Weeren says. “These [24 yachts under investigation] are not seized or frozen and still have captains or maintenance companies looking after them.” Simply put, they are not allowed to leave Dutch territory.
Sanctions have also been upheld in the Dutch Caribbean. The Central Bank of Curaçao has frozen the financial assets of five sanctioned Russians at a total value of more than $43m. Furthermore, the authorities of St. Maarten have seized one vessel on land belonging to a sanctioned Russian citizen.
“The investigations and seizures since the start of the war have been an ongoing process,” says van Weeren. Back in April, Dutch government authorities impounded 14 yachts in shipyards nationwide and have continued to search for Russian-owned superyachts.
So, have sanctions imposed on Russian-owned yachts hit the Dutch shipyards?
“Of course, there are fewer potential customers, but I wouldn’t say it has had a negative effect,” says van Weeren.
Superyacht law expert van Steenderen agrees. “There has been no negative impact. Obviously, it is a challenging time for everyone, but it is what it is. We must continue.”
He reinforces the point by citing the Netherlands’ longstanding maritime tradition that will endure the obstacles raised by sanctions. The industry may have lost potential business from extremely wealthy Russians but is still facing record highs of buyers looking for new yachts. “People from all over the world come to the Netherlands to build their luxury yachts,” he says. “There is still plenty of customers to go around in the industry.”