Russian Oligarch May Be Avoiding Yacht Seizure by Hiding Location

Failure to report a vessel’s location is a violation of established maritime laws.

byLewin Day|
The yacht Pacific.

Western nations have avoided taking direct military action against the Russian invasion of Ukraine thus far. Efforts have focused on supporting Ukraine's defense efforts and sanctioning Russian interests instead. It appears that another Russian billionaire may fear these sanctions, with a gas tycoon's yacht going dark late last week as it appeared to make head for the Bahamas, reports Bloomberg.

The yacht in question is known as the Pacific, with the 85-meter (279 feet) long craft built in 2010 by shipbuilding company Lürssen. It's a ship fit for a billionaire, complete with a helipad and multiple tenders, jetskis, and other watercraft on board. Fit for 12 guests and carrying 28 crew, it's owned by Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, whose fortune places him as the 45th richest person in the world.

Mikhelson serves as CEO of Novatek, Russia's largest non-state natural gas supplier. With US sanctions directly targeting Novatek, and UK sanctions targeting Mikhelson himself, it's little surprise that the yacht is on the move. Mikhelson's representatives at Novatek were unreachable for comment, according to Bloomberg.

According to publicly available tracking data, the Pacific left the Papagayo Marina in Costa Rica on May 5, before passing through the Panama Canal. As shown on the Spire maritime tracker, The Pacific was last reported to be cruising near its top speed of 20 knots in the Caribbean Sea. The ship then went dark just after 9 p.m. on May 8, ceasing to update position reports further. Failure to broadcast location updates is a violation of international maritime law.

The Pacific's original stated destination of Nassau in the Bahamas itself is unlikely to be a port of call. Ian Ralby, chief executive of I.R. Consilium, a maritime security consultancy, spoke to Bloomberg on the issue. "It’s inconceivable that Russian oligarchs would consider the Bahamas a safe jurisdiction given its close ties to the United States -- not just in terms of location but in terms of its law enforcement cooperation," said Ralby. More likely destinations include countries that are "more friendly to Russian interests, like Cuba or Venezuela," he said.

It's likely the yacht's sudden disappearance from tracking maps is due to the scrutiny being placed on the assets of Russian oligarchs worldwide. Earlier this month, the US seized the Amadea superyacht linked to Suleiman Kerimov, working with authorities in Fiji.

Meanwhile, Italian police secured a yacht believed to belong to Vladimir Putin himself, among many others, while Spanish authorities nabbed the Tango, owned by aluminum magnate Viktor Vekselberg. Over a dozen yachts have been seized worldwide as European and Western governments seek to pressure Russia amidst the nation's ongoing aggression in Ukraine.

For now, the yacht's true destination remains a mystery. In any case, there'll be plenty of people keeping an eye out for the blue-silver yacht, wherever it ends up. With individual researchers and government authorities alike keen to hunt down Russian assets wherever possible, and armed with the benefit of satellite imagery, it may be that the Pacific is hunted down sooner rather than later.

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