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In France, a seized superyacht creates headaches, not just for its owner

In a quiet corner on the French Riviera, La Ciotat Shipyards claimed it is writing bills to pay mooring fees for Amore Vero’s white superyacht Amore Vero. However, it doesn’t know where to send them.

The vessel was 86m (282ft) long and its crew were about to leave harbour on March 2. This happened two days after Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft’s Russian state oil company Rosneft was added to the European Union’s sanctions list.

France’s finance ministry claims the yacht belonged to Sechin, one of Putin’s oldest friends. The ministry refused to identify the firm.

Rosneft sent a statement to Sechin, which denied the allegations.

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Bruno Le Maire, Finance Minister, said France had officially taken possession of the Amore Vero. Officials said this gives the state custody and costs to the owner.

Two companies that have been involved in the yacht’s maintenance said authorities have not yet notified any third parties about the vessel’s current status. This leaves it undetermined who is responsible for its upkeep. La Ciotat Shipyards’ executive said that the company is unsure how to pay its bills.

Alice Boisseau (communications officer at La Ciotat Shipyards) stated that they are continuing to invoice. She said that she didn’t know who would pay the bill when she was asked.

Boisseau declined further questions. France’s customs agency declined comment to clarify why it hadn’t informed shipyards about the yacht’s status.

The Amore Vero questions point out the complexity authorities face when they target Putin’s assets and disrupt some businesses.

The European Union’s financial wealth is largely unaffected  However, European states have frozen and seized physical assets including superyachts and properties.

John Dalby, the owner of Marine Risk Management which recovers maritime assets for insurers and banks, stated that Mediterranean governments have little experience with the legal intricacies involved in seizing superyachts.

Dalby stated that there is a lack in cohesion between people doing the same thing: between state actors, third parties like creditors, and added that he has spoken to authorities in the United States and the Mediterranean.

He stated that creditors of seized yachts, such as fuel suppliers and crew management firms, could request a court to order the sale of the vessel to recover their debts. France’s customs agency didn’t comment.

According to Superyacht Times, Russians have almost one of every 10 superyachts.

Some yachts owned by sanctioned persons are moored at safe havens, such as Solaris in Turkey and Eclipse in Rome Abramovich in Turkey, or they are sailing in international waters that are not subject to the jurisdiction of sanction-imposing countries.

Le Maire stated that the Amore Vero was in port in France, undergoing a refit by luxury yacht expert MB92 at the time sanctions were imposed.

The minister stated that authorities had not only ‘frozen’ but seized the Amore Vero, as its attempts to leave port violated EU sanctions and French law.

MB92 was asked if it received all payment for the refit and if so, said Reuters: “We are still awaiting formal notification from Customs which will clarify the official status the vessel.”

Pascal Flot, a maritime lawyer, said that French authorities have not notified any third parties about the Amore Vero status because of difficulties in determining megayacht ownership.

Flot stated that the super-rich control their assets often through a network of offshore tax haven shell companies. The Amore Vero flew under a Cayman Islands Flag.

The customs office declined comment.

The annual operating costs for the largest superyachts can exceed 10% of their actual value, Flot stated. This includes fuel, crew salaries, food, insurance and berth fees.

This could translate into millions of dollars per month for a vessel such as the $540 million Sailing Yacht A owned by Andrei Melnichenko, a coal and fertilizer baron.

Italy, the government appoints a public administrator to manage frozen assets. Maintenance expenses are paid by the state agency. The owner must reimburse them or the state may sell the asset to recover its expenses.

Italy’s Agenzia del Demanio declined to comment. Representatives of Melnichenko didn’t respond to a request to comment.

The owner is responsible for the running costs of a frozen or seized yacht in France and Spain. Rachel Lynch, a representative of Nautilus International, stated that sanctioned owners often couldn’t make payments due to blockages on their bank accounts.

A second risk to governments is vessels being wrongly detained, according to Giannis Markogiannis a Greek lawyer who specializes in international yachting law and insurance.

He stated that a yacht seized without the owner being linked to a name on the sanction list had to be released. This would make the state liable for any damage or deterioration during immobilisation. Owners could also sue the state for lost charter earnings and prohibition of use.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises, the seizing state must carefully handle all those matters. Markogiannis said.

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