Russian billionaire’s spectacular US$400m megayacht is impounded over ‘unpaid bills'
The world’s largest sailing yacht has been impounded in Gibraltar over claims that its billionaire Russian owner owes the shipbuilder US$15.3million.
The Gibraltar Port Authority impounded the €futuristic US$400million “Sailing Yacht A” as it was on its way to be delivered to industrialist Andrey Melnichenko, following a legal filing from the German shipbuilder that constructed the futuristic-looking vessel.
The 143m-long Bermuda-registered yacht, which has three masts taller than Big Ben’s clock tower, left the Kiel shipyard of superyacht builder Nobiskrug two weeks ago to conduct final sea trials before being handed over to Melnichenko. But on Wednesday two Gibraltarian “ship keepers” took control of the spectacular Philippe Starck designed yacht, which is longer than 13 London buses and features a helipad, onboard swimming pool, and underwater observation pod.
Gibraltar Admiralty marshal Liam Yeats, said: “The vessel is under arrest and is currently at anchor in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.”
“In the volatile world of shipping, particularly in the recent economic downturn, disputes and defaults are an unfortunate fact of life,” the Gibraltar Port Authority says on its website. “[Ship arrest] isn’t an attractive proposition, and clearly it’s an action of last resort but, when handled efficiently and swiftly, it can at least deliver a safe resolution to a dispute and bring matters to a close.”
Court papers show Nobiskrug is seeking an outstanding payment of €US$9.8million, as well as €US$5.5million for subcontractors and interest charges. The claims are made against Valla Yachts Ltd, the Bermuda company to which the yacht is registered.
Relations between Melnichenko and the shipbuilders appears to have soured rapidly since the ship left the Nobiskrug yard. Upon its debut the shipbuilder’s managing director, Holger Kahl, said: “Born from the desire of the owner to ‘push the boundaries of engineering and challenge the status quo of the industry’, Sailing Yacht A is undoubtedly one of the most visionary projects Nobiskrug has ever been involved in.”
A spokesman for Melnichenko, who controls a US$13.2billion fertiliser and coal fortune, said the shipbuilder’s decision to file court papers for the yacht to be impounded was “an astounding act for a shipbuilder of Nobiskrug’s standing”.
“The facts are that with a project of this magnitude there are sometimes outstanding issues to be resolved,” the spokesman told YachtHarbour.com. “We assumed the matter was progressing to a resolution as Nobiskrug were happy to release the yacht on 5 February to the owner’s project team for further works to be carried out in Spain. The money was paid by the owner the following day into an escrow account pending a resolution of the discussions. All monies now being claimed are in arbitration and we understand these disputes fall under arbitration in the UK courts.”
The spokesman later said “a technical problem” was being resolved and said the ship would be released in a few days and the “unpleasant episode” would be over.
As the vessel made its way to Spain earlier this month, Melnichenko’s project director, Dirk Kloosterman, who also helped build Larry Ellison’s Rising Sun and Melnichenko’s previous superyacht Motor Yacht A, said: “This has been the most challenging assignment of my career. I am confident Sailing Yacht A will be the world’s greatest yacht in terms of design and technology for the years ahead.
“Her beauty is breathtaking, and Philippe Starck’s astonishing design and ultimate vision will be the subject of many conversations wherever she travels around the globe. We look forward to the final delivery to the owner.”
Melnichenko is said to have chosen to name his yachts A so that they appear first in shipping registers. Sailing Yacht A, which requires 54 crew to operate, has eight decks connected by several lifts, and is capable of achieving speeds of 35 knots downwind.
The unique carbon fibre masts can withstand 90 knots of wind with full sail up, the strain equivalent to a category 2 hurricane or hanging two double-decker buses from each tip.