• Yachts owned by France, Spain, Germany and Italy
  • Running costs can reach millions of dollars per month
  • Liability for costs depends on the legal status of the vessel

LA CIOTAT, France, April 4 (Reuters) – In a quiet corner of the French Riviera, La Ciotat Shipyards said it was drawing up invoices for mooring fees for the towering white superyacht Amore Vero, but he didn’t know who to send them to. .

Customs officers seized the 86-metre (282ft) vessel as its crew prepared to leave port on the night of March 2, two days after the European Union added Igor Sechin, the company’s chief Russian state oil company Rosneft, to its sanctions list for the war in Ukraine.

France’s finance ministry said the yacht belonged to a company controlled by Sechin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oldest allies. The ministry declined to name the company.

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But Sechin – in a statement sent to Reuters by Rosneft – denied this.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France had officially seized the Amore Vero – a move officials say gives the state custody of the yacht and leaves the costs to the owner.

But authorities have failed to notify third parties of the vessel’s status, making it unclear who is responsible for its upkeep, two companies involved in maintaining the yacht said. As bills pile up, an executive at La Ciotat shipyards said the company doesn’t know how to get paid.

“We continue to invoice”, specifies Alice Boisseau, communications officer for the Chantiers Navals de La Ciotat. When asked who would foot the bill, she replied, “We don’t know.”

Boisseau declined to answer further questions. The French customs agency declined to comment on why it had not informed the shipyards of the status of the yacht.

The questions hanging over the Amore Vero underscore the complexities authorities face when targeting the assets of Putin’s allies and the disruptions to some businesses.

In the European Union, the financial wealth of the oligarchs remains largely untouched, but European states have frozen or seized physical assets, including properties and at least 11 superyachts.

John Dalby, owner of Marine Risk Management, which recovers maritime assets on behalf of insurers and banks, said Mediterranean governments had little experience in the legal intricacies of seizing superyachts.

“There is a lack of cohesion in what people are doing: between state actors and other third parties, like creditors,” Dalby said, adding that he had spoken with authorities in the Mediterranean and the United States. .

He said creditors of seized yachts – such as fuel suppliers or crew management companies – could ask a court to sell the vessel to collect their debts. The French customs agency did not comment.

THE POSSESSION

Russians own almost one in 10 superyachts, according to the specialist site Superyacht Times.

Some of those belonging to sanctioned individuals are moored in safe havens – such as Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse and Solaris in Turkey – or sail in international waters beyond the jurisdiction of sanctioning states.

The Amore Vero was in a port in France being refurbished by luxury yacht specialist MB92 when the sanctions were imposed, Le Maire said.

Authorities seized rather than simply “frozen” the Amore Vero because its attempt to leave port contravened the EU sanctions regime and broke French law, the minister said.

MB92, asked if he has received full payment for the refit or if he plans to, told Reuters: “We are still awaiting an official notification from customs which will clarify the official status of the vessel.”

Maritime lawyer Pascal Flot said difficulties in determining ownership of the megayachts could be one of the reasons French authorities failed to inform third parties of the Amore Vero’s status.

The super-rich often control their assets through a network of shell companies in offshore tax havens, Flot said. The Amore Vero flies under a Cayman Islands flag.

The customs office declined to comment.

“BAD SURPRISE”

The annual running costs of the largest superyachts can be 10% of their value, Flot said, including crew pay, repairs, fuel, food, insurance, mooring fees and utilities. public ashore.

For a ship like the $540 million Sailing Yacht A, owned by coal and fertilizer baron Andrei Melnichenko and held in the Italian port of Trieste, that could mean millions of dollars every month. Read more

In Italy, frozen assets are managed by a public administrator and maintenance costs are borne by the state real estate agency. They must then be reimbursed by the owner or the State can sell the asset to recoup its expenses.

Italian agency Agenzia del Demanio declined to comment. Representatives for Melnichenko did not respond to a request for comment.

In France and Spain, the operating costs of a “frozen” or seized yacht remain the responsibility of the owner. However, holds on their bank accounts meant sanctioned owners were often unable to make payment, said Rachel Lynch of seafarers’ union Nautilus International.

Another risk for governments is wrongfully detained vessels, said Giannis Markogiannis, a Greek lawyer who specializes in international yachting law, insurance and taxation.

A seized yacht whose ownership could not be linked to a name on the sanctions list should be released, leaving the state liable for any deterioration in its condition or damage while it was detained, he said. Landlords can also sue for loss of rental income or for prohibition of use.

“All of these issues must be carefully handled by the seizing state to avoid unpleasant surprises.” says Markogiannis.

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Reporting by Layli Foroudi in La Ciotat, Jonathan Saul in London, Aislinn Laing in Madrid, Alasdair Pal in Malé; additional reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon and Corina Pons, Joan Faus in Madrid; written by Richard Lough; Editing by Daniel Flynn

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