Questions linger over three yachts linked to sanctions-hit Russians as hurricane season arrives

Luxury superyacht Alfa Nero – which has links to Andrey Guryev, a known close associate of Vladimir Putin – is currently docked in Falmouth Harbour (Photo by Gemma Handy)
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By Gemma Handy

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The exodus of the glistening multi-million dollar superyachts which call Antigua home over the winter months has long been the harbinger of hurricane season.

But as the region marks the official start of the season today, at least three of the leviathan vessels currently docked in English and Falmouth harbours will not be going anywhere just yet.

The US$120m 82-metre Alfa Nero, along with luxury yacht Halo and explorer boat Garcon, are all believed to be owned by sanctions-hit Russian oligarchs.

And all three can still be seen soaking up the sun on the island’s south coast.

Antigua and Barbuda has been vocal in its condemnation of Russia’s assault on Ukraine – the impetus behind the sanctions levelled at those deemed to have aided Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his Eastern European neighbour.

Luxury superyacht Alfa Nero – which has links to Andrey Guryev, a known close associate of Vladimir Putin – is currently docked in Falmouth Harbour (Photo by Gemma Handy)

The twin island nation was also quick to take steps to bolster that stance, promptly obtaining sanctions lists from the US, UK and European Union and distributing them to relevant parties nationwide.

But with harbour officials restricted from doing any business with the yachts – including selling them fuel to refill and depart – precisely what to do with the vessels now is unresolved.

The matter is uncharted territory for Antigua and Barbuda, resulting in something of a stalemate.

“The captains still have responsibility for the boats but they’re afraid they could lose their captain’s licences – or worse – if they move them. These are professional guys and they are not about to risk that,” a marina insider told Observer.

“The other problem is fuel; a boat the size of Alfa Nero would take around US$1 million in fuel. We can’t supply them with fuel and if they run out mid-journey, the boat is dead.”

Observer reported in April that British officials said they’d confirmed that Halo and Garcon belonged to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, the former owner of Chelsea Football Club who was sanctioned by both the UK and the EU in March. The boats are still docked side by side in Falmouth Harbour.

A short distance away, in the vicinity of the yacht club, Alfa Nero languishes, dwarfing its amphibious neighbours.

Alfa Nero has links to Andrey Guryev, a known close associate of Putin and founder of fertiliser firm PhosAgro. Guryev was added to the UK’s sanctions list on April 6.

As of March, the 62-year-old’s net worth was estimated to be almost US$5 billion. He is said to have acquired his fortune in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union by purchasing previously state-owned assets at undervalued prices.

It remains unclear when Halo and Garcon – worth around US$38m and US$20m respectively – arrived in the country but Alfa Nero has been in its current location since February.

Garcon and Halo pictured side by side in Falmouth Harbour (Photo by Edwin Gifford)

“These boats are too valuable to just sit there,” the source continued. “The Antiguan authorities are going to have to make a decision because it’s now hurricane season and if a storm comes, they can’t stay docked there.

“Plus, if one gets blown and blocks the harbour entrance, we will have no yachting season next year.”

Marina officials are also barred from receiving docking fees from the three boats.

Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US, told Observer an advisory had previously been sent to all ports and harbours in the country that no business should be done with any sanctioned companies, persons or their property.

Because the twin isles have no sanctions laws, local authorities cannot seize the yachts unless their owners commit a crime in Antigua and Barbuda.

Britain would have to make a mutual legal assistance treaty request (MLAT) to pave the way for any action to be initiated.

“We have heard nothing further from the UK authorities concerning an MLAT request with the necessary evidence of the ownership and crime that can be put to a court for authorisation to act,” Sir Ronald said.

He added that the EU has also not sought formal legal assistance from Antigua and Barbuda.

Halo was built for Australian billionaire James Packer, who had originally been poised to develop the Paradise Found project in Barbuda alongside actor Robert De Niro. He allegedly put the 57-metre yacht up for sale a few months after it was delivered in 2018 because it was “too small”.

The 67-metre Garçon is designed to carry helicopters and a slew of water toys.

The imposing black-hulled Alfa Nero boasts an on-board hair salon and spa, and a 12-metre infinity pool capable of converting into a helipad-cum-dancefloor.

A spokesman for the British government previously told Observer the UK was in contact with Antigua and Barbuda authorities about the Abramovich-linked boats and was providing assistance.

London’s Foreign Office, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Chet Greene, have been approached for further comment.

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