The hunt for “superyachts”, the most ostentatious signs of the fabulous wealth of the “oligarchs”, has become the showcase of Western sanctions against these Russian billionaires reputed to be close to the Kremlin, but these sumptuous ships are proving difficult to seize.
“The majority of them are in Turkey and others have been spotted in the Emirates”, explains Alex Finley, American author and former CIA agent, who originated the hashtag #YachtWatch. A few have also found refuge in the waters of the Maldives and the Seychelles. A handful have been immobilized, and a few other rare boats, which can reach 100 meters in length, have been seized by States.
These boats are equipped with a tracking system. Only on rare occasions, for security reasons, is it allowed to be turned off, such as when the boat is sailing in pirate-infested waters, says Alex Finley. The position of each vessel is therefore normally available in real time on maritime traffic sites such as MarineTraffic or VesselFinder. Some yachts have disappeared from radar before resurfacing in the waters of countries that do not sanction Russia.
Another problem: the very list of yachts concerned by the sanctions is difficult to establish. The ships avoid the Russian flag, which would make them easy targets for Western sanctions. Taking another flag of convenience is also child’s play since all you have to do is make a request to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs of the State concerned. On the other hand, the ships are rarely directly owned by the oligarchs, who use front companies to cover their tracks.