Russian oligarch’s yachts – where are they now?

Some of Russia’s richest individuals have had some of their most prized assets immobilized or seized after Western governments imposed and enforced sanctions; others have scrambled to move them to safe havens around the world.

One year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent war started, Spire Maritime takes a look at where these multi-million dollar vessels are and their behaviors since the beginning of the war.

Since the start of the Ukraine/Russia conflict, in late February of 2022, the topic of Russian Oligarchs’ yachts has been a hot one. Spire Maritime has worked with multiple news outlets, like Bloomberg and the BBC, to track where these vessels have been and what their behavior is. AIS data is one of the most important elements in these stories, and has been used to make the case for seizing vessels, by governments like the United States.

How did we use AIS data to track superyachts?

In order to use Spire Maritime’s AIS data to track these vessels, we built a real-time, unified superyacht tracker that includes vessels associated with sanctioned Russian individuals. This tracker is publicly available and presents real-time data. It has been used by media outlets like Bloomberg in tracking superyachts’ journeys, such as those of the NORD, the AMADEA or the GALACTICA SUPER NOVA.

We also set up alerts, using our web ship-tracking platform ShipView, in order to get notified when one of these vessels moves, or when their AIS transmissions are inactive for more than a certain period of time, which could indicate they are engaging in “dark vessel behavior” – more on that below.

Which vessels were seized or detained by Western countries?

A large portion of the tracked vessels were either seized or detained by Western governments’ authorities. According to multiple press sources, at least 20 vessels are currently either seized or detained after being linked to Russian sanctioned individuals.

Vessel nameIMOSeizing/detaining country

Some of these vessels, like SCHEHERAZADE, DILBAR or RAHIL, have not been able to depart from the ports they were moored in since the start of the war, and have therefore been static in their AIS transmissions (or have had it off completely).

Others have traveled long journeys in their efforts to escape seizure and sanctions, but ended up being seized in other parts of the world, as was notoriously the case for MY AXIOMA (detained in Gibraltar by UK authorities) and MY AMADEA (detained in Fiji by US authorities).

How did other vessels escape sanctions?

A number of other vessels in our trackers were kept from seizure or detention through a variety of strategies. Most of the vessels have turned to ‘safe haven ports,’ which are countries that have refused to impose sanctions to Russian individuals, as has been the case for Turkey.

Ports in the South of Turkey, such as Marmaris or Göcek, have been a hotspot for Superyachts, and many of the vessels on our live tracker have either headed and stayed there from early on (as has been the case for ECLIPSE, MY SOLARIS or FLYING FOX), or have stopped there on the way to other safe havens (CLIO, PACIFIC, TITAN).

Russian oligarch-linked superyachts that have been or are still moored in Turkey

Vessel nameIMO

Other destinations that have welcomed Superyachts linked to Russian oligarchs include the Maldives (OCEAN VICTORY, A, NIRVANA, TITAN, CLIO, NORD) and Dubai (TITAN, NIRVANA, MADAME GU and A). A visible pattern of travel between these ports for some of these vessels is clearly visible when their routes are plotted on a map.

Dark vessel behavior – what is it and how has it been used?

In some cases, like those of the GALACTICA SUPER NOVA, the CLIO or the NORD, the vessel has combined trips to safe harbors with dark vessel behavior. This happens when the vessel’s crew turns off its AIS transmissions intentionally, in order to avoid being tracked.

Dark vessel behavior has been used not only by vessels trying to escape sanctions, but also for other nefarious ends like illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) or human trafficking. Spire Maritime has recently launched a dark shipping detection solution that empowers entities around the world to go beyond AIS vessel tracking in order to detect and pursue this type of illegal behavior.

The GALACTICA SUPER NOVA, one of the most notable stories – reported by the BBC in the “The Hunt for Russia’s Superyachts” piece – has actually been dark since it left the port of Tivat on 2 March 2022, although photographic evidence of it being in the Port Azure in Göcek was found by the BBC. It’s a similar story for the NORD, which escaped to Vladivostok before returning to the Maldives. The yacht has been dark since crossing the Malacca Strait on the way to the later destination. Video evidence of it en route to its current haven, with AIS transmissions turned off, is available on Youtube.

Other vessels that can be interpreted as having the same behavior include the CLIO, the PACIFIC and the MY AMADEA. The FBI referenced MY AMADEA‘s dark vessel behavior while traveling from St. Maarten to Antigua (starting on Feb. 24th, the same day of the invasion) as one of the arguments to grant a warrant and seize the ship in Fiji.

What are the differences when compared with the pre-war period?

The fear of sanctions, as well as the impact of them, can be clearly seen when looking at a heatmap of the positions of the vessels impacted (1), pre- and post-invasion.

Global AIS comparison between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 for superyachts

The above heatmap comparison is pretty obvious in showing the changes in travel patterns for this particular group of vessels. Even the sheer volume of downsampled positions for the same period differs greatly – the post-war period comprises about one third of the positions, showing how many of these ships have either stated in safe havens, got seized or engaged in dark vessel behavior.

Differences in the Mediterranean region

The Mediterranean basin is typically a hotspot for Superyachts, especially during the European Summer period. It was one of the areas where the patterns of these ships changed radically:

AIS comparison between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 for superyachts in the Mediterranean

Differences in the Northern Europe region

The situation is at least as obvious in the Northern coasts of Europe:

AIS comparison between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 for superyachts in Northern Europe

Almost no traffic has been detected for this subset of Superyachts in this area, which is especially contrasting to the situation pre-war. The only Russian oligarch-linked superyacht that has ventured to travel across these waters during this period was the RAGNAR – which ended up stuck in Norway for almost 2 months when local fuel supply companies refused to supply the yacht. The vessel ended up being able to proceed with its trip and joined the group of superyachts moored in the safe haven region of Marmaris in Southwest Turkey.

The Indian Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf

Of all the historically busy areas where this group of vessels tends to travel, this hotspot is probably the least affected by diminishing traffic:

AIS comparison between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 for superyachts in the Indian Sea, Red Sea and Persian Gulf

Superyachts have been able to still navigate the Red Sea and the Suez Canal in their travels, and, as indicated before, areas like the Maldives, the Seychelles or Dubai remain safe havens for these yachts, which helps explain why activity has been less impacted around these regions.

(1) The vessels included in these maps are the following: MY AMADEA (IMO: 1012531) , MY AXIOMA (IMO: 9571143), ALFA NERO (IMO: 1009376), SCHEHERAZADE (IMO: 9809980), TANGO (IMO: 1010703), LADY M (IMO: 1012012), LENA (IMO: 9594339), PHI (IMO: 9867748), CRESCENT (IMO: 9785108), MERIDIAN A (IMO: 1010624), LADY ANASTASIA (IMO: 8742496), ROYAL ROMANCE (IMO: 1012268), SY A (IMO: 1012141), DILBAR (IMO: 9661792), AMORE VERO (IMO: 1011757), RAHIL (IMO: 1008308), MY SOLARIS (IMO: 9819820), ECLIPSE (IMO: 1009613), GALACTICA SUPER NOVA (IMO: 9798234), CLIO (IMO: 9312535), PACIFIC (IMO: 9569293), TITAN (IMO: 1010478), FLYING FOX (IMO: 9829394), OCEAN VICTORY (IMO: 1011850), A (IMO: 1009340), NIRVANA (IMO: 1011202), NORD (IMO: 9853785), MADAME GU (IMO: 1011331), LA DATCHA (IMO: 9849021), ICE (IMO: 9332406), SEA RHAPSODY (IMO: 1010648), LE GRAND BLEU (IMO: 1006829), SOCRAT (IMO: 9597599), GARCON (IMO: 9587051), GRACEFUL/LYUTSIA (IMO: 1011551), LUNA (IMO: 1010222), RAGNAR (IMO: 9621522)

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