Seized superyachts could become an environmental hazard, experts say

  • Yachts seized from sanctioned Russian oligarchs are in limbo as European authorities decide on next steps.
  • Experts say that without maintenance, yachts could quickly become an environmental hazard.
  • Proper maintenance of superyachts would require millions of dollars.

Dozens of superyachts seized from Russian oligarchs could pose a significant environmental threat to marine life and surrounding environments if not maintained – a process that typically costs millions.

Earlier this month, Italy seized a $578million megayacht owned by Andrey Melnichenko, France seized a $120million vessel owned by Igor Sechin and Spain seized a $153million superyacht dollars linked to Sergei Chemezov. More recently, the UK held a $50 million superyacht, the owner of which remains hidden.

Insider spoke to three experts who said superyachts have the potential to wreak havoc on the environment if the governments that seized them choose to let the ships go without daily maintenance.

“Abandoned ships are an environmental hazard,” Anna Barford, Canadian shipping activist for environmental group Stand.Earth, told Insider. “As the ship breaks down, contaminants leak into the marine environment.”

Determination of responsibility for maintenance costs

According to Benjamin Maltby, a partner at Keystone Law in the UK and an expert in yacht and luxury asset law, the cost of maintaining a yacht typically adds up to around 15% to 20% of its overall value. For Melnichenko’s yacht, for example, that would translate to up to $115.6 million in annual expenses.

Even waiving the costs of vessel personnel, repairs, fuel and insurance, yacht mooring costs can quickly add up. Todd Roberts, president of Marine Boat Works in California, previously told Insider that mooring alone typically costs tens of thousands of dollars a month.

The yacht 'Crescent' detained in the port of Tarragona, on March 17, 2022 in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.

The yacht “Crescent” detained in the port of Tarragona, on March 17, 2022 in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.

Laia Solanellas/Europa Press via Getty Images

Whether the asset is detained, seized or arrested, maintenance costs will fall on the owner, Maltby said. However, there is a duty of care which comes into play as soon as an authority holds property.

“Under English law you are subject to a statutory duty of care,” Maltby said, noting that an authority will become a bailee, a person who takes temporary possession, but not ownership, of property or property. another good.

“I think it would be embarrassing for the various European governments that seized the yachts not to deal with them,” he said.

Environmental hazards

Crew members are essential to the maintenance of a superyacht, for everything from washing the bow of the vessel to technical maintenance. An unmanned vessel could quickly wither and deteriorate within weeks.

According to Barford, if superyachts are left without proper care, the local marine ecosystem could face a number of problems, from sewage leaks to industrial waste.

“If sewage is not properly maintained, it can have a failure rate of over 90%,” she said. “That means you have greywater, raw or poorly decomposed sewage seeping into the water. It can cause problems for fish, spread disease, and even acidify the ocean to some extent.”

Maltby added that another possible long-term risk is “accelerated galvanic corrosion”, which English marine biologist Jannah Kehoe has described as a phenomenon in which two dissimilar metals come into contact with each other and with a electrolyte which in this case is sea water.

“These conditions generate an electric current and cause one metal to decay faster than the other, and typically cause a ship’s steel hull to decay if left untreated,” Kehoe said.

Yacht Phi London

The yacht ‘Phi’ in Canary Wharf, London.

Grace Dean/Initiate

Corrosion can be extremely harmful to the environment. According to Barford, this could contaminate the water and cause the death of plants and other marine life, because they either cannot metabolize industrial waste or they will pass through the food chain.

It could even get to a point where humans come into contact with and consume contaminated fish or oysters from the site, she said.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid the deterioration of yachts and local marine life would be to dry-dock the yachts, but the process would be expensive, Barford said. This would require an intensive cleaning process, as well as the use of heavy machinery to lift the yachts out of the water and transport them to a new location.

Yachts could also lose their certification if they are not maintained, which means they could ultimately lose their insurance, as well as any ability to cover costs in the event of a serious environmental hazard such as an oil spill.

“Normal operations are already having a negative impact on marine life,” Barford said. “When you factor in a ship that’s essentially unattended, it only gets worse.”

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