Turkish President Erdogan Poaches Training Yacht From The Country's Navy
The ship joins a growing array of lavish transport options for the Turkish head of state, including a VVIP Boeing 747 the country acquired last year.
It has emerged that the Turkish Navy turned over the yacht Yakamoz, which it had been using as a training and auxiliary staff transport ship, to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office more than a year ago. How Erdogan or his staff has been making use of the vessel since then is unclear, but it could be linked to the constrution of a new summer palace on the Mediterrean Sea. Regardless, the transfer fits with other efforts the Turkish government has pursued to expand the often lavish executive transport options, including a VVIP-configured Boeing 747-8i jet acquired from Qatar last year, as well as other amenities, available to the country's head of state.
Vice President Fuat Oktay disclosed that the transfer had occurred on March 16, 2018, in response to a question from Utku Cakirozer, a Turkish parliamentarian and deputy head of the Republican People’s Party, also known by its Turkish acronym CHP. Cakirozer's party is the main opponent in Turkey to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP. CHP has been highly critical of Erdogan and his leadership, as well as his increasingly dictatorial policies and general behavior in recent years.
Istanbul Shipyard first began construction of the 495-ton displacement Yakamoz in 2000. The shipyard launched the vessel, which is just under 130 feet long, in 2006. The Turkish Navy formally accepted delivery of the yacht, which carried the hull number Y68 in naval service, in January 2015.
There is limited information available about the ship's activities between 2015 and 2018, with most of the available pictures and video being from its first year in service. It was reportedly refurbished following its transfer to Erdogan's office, but there do not appear to be any publicly available pictures of its interior. So, we can't tell how it stacks up against luxury yachts that belong to other world leaders, such as one that reportedly belongs to Russian President Vladimir Putin, or other wealthy individuals, such as the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Octopus.
Vice President Oktay had responded to Cakirozer's questions by saying that the Turkish government had originally ordered Yakamoz for presidential use. The clear implication here is that the transfer is simply about putting the ship to use for its intended purpose.
It's unclear if this is actually the case, however. An article in the May 2015 issue of the Turkish Navy's official magazine said that the ship, which it added could carry around 100 crew and passengers and had a range of around 3,000 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 12 knots, was marked use for "protocol purposes" when construction began in 2000. That same piece does say that in 2009, the decision was made to change its primary missions to that of staff transport and training ship.
Navies using yachts as training vessels and transports is hardly unheard of, too. Last year, the Omani Navy actually received an ex-royal yacht to use for these types of missions after the country's Sultan Qaboos bin Said bought a new one for his own personal use. There's no indication that, whatever its original intended purpose, the Turkish government had ever intended to place Yakamoz under the control of any organization other than the Turkish Navy.
“Under conditions where an economic crisis is deepening, poverty is increasing and a wide segment of society is trying to get by on the minimum wage, does the Presidency really need a yacht?" Cakirozer had asked when requesting information about the yacht. "For what purpose and what services will this yacht be used?”
We don't know if he's gotten a response yet, but we do know that the Turkish government has been building a new summer residence for Erdogan in the Mediterranean resort town of Marmaris. Just in August 2019, authorities established a cordon around Okluk Cove, where the palace complex, which is reportedly four times the size of the famous Palace of Versailles in France, has been under construction. Private yachts, tour boats, and other personal and commercial vessels were told to leave the area or face fines.
Erdogan already has one massive presidential palace in the country's capital Ankara. This facility was originally intended to serve as offices and residence for the Turkish Prime Minister, a position that Erdogan held between 2003 and 2014. When he first took office as President in 2014, he then declared that it would become the new presidential offices and residence.
The summer palace project dates back at least to 2017 and CHP has alleged that Ergodan demanded that certain portions be demolished and rebuilt after inspecting the initial construction and finding it not to his liking. The opposition party has also said that, as of June 2019, Turkey had spent nearly $58 million on the residence, including approximately $5.2 million in new funding this year.
Ergodan's desire for the new palace in Marmaris was likely driven, in part, by the fact that he was staying in a private villa there when an abortive coup against him kicked off in 2016. A Turkish government Gulfstream IV business jet whisked him away and was harassed by F-16 Viper fighter jets belonging to the coup forces as it made its way to Istanbul.
Still, Erdogan has come under fire on other occasions for the government's acquisition of extreme luxury items for his personal use. Last year, Turkey also took delivery of a VVIP-configured Boeing 747-8i aircraft, a plane that costs at least $400 million new. This plane joined the rest of the country's VVIP fleet, which also includes Gulfstream IVs and Airbus A340 widebody airliners.
Ergodan's Administration claimed that in case the case of the 747-8i, the plane had been a gift from Qatar, but, again, it's unclear if this was actually the case. Turkey has been a major supporter of Qatar, which is embroiled in a simmering political spat with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others. The Turkish government spent considerable resources to bolster its Qatari counterparts and the jet may have been one of a number of ways authorities in Doha worked to pay back those debts.
Turkey's economy has seen something of an upswing recently, despite its own growing spat with the United States. That doesn't mean that the country's economic position has anywhere near recovered from the downturn in recent years and wouldn't justify Ergodan's decision to transfer the Yakamoz to his office back in 2018.
There does not seem to be a clear schedule for the completion of the Marmaris palace, but after it is done, we may see more of Yakamoz in Okluk Cove and further out in the Mediterranean.
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