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Yacht Watch columnist: 'World’s biggest privately-owned yacht' seized amid Russian sanctions

Alex Finley, Yacht Watch columnist, author, and former CIA officer, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the seizure of yachts owned by Russian oligarchs due to sanctions violations amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: Welcome back. In his State of the Union address last week, President Biden said that the United States, along with European allies, are coming for the yachts of Russian oligarchs. While some have begun moving their yachts to countries without extradition treaties, others have already seen their yacht seized, including the vessel of Russian billionaire, Igor Sechin, who, according to the Wall Street Journal, told the captain of his now seized $600 million ship to leave France and sail to Turkey as fast as possible.

And for all of this, we want to welcome in former CIA officer and Yacht Watch columnist Alex Finley. Alex, thank you for being with us today. This is a fascinating story for obvious reasons. It might be a little bit harder to move your yacht away from the US authorities than it would a billion dollars in Bitcoin, but what's your view of the situation right now?

ALEX FINLEY: Well, like you said, we had a few yacht-- I call them freezes-- over the weekend. These aren't quite seizures because it's not like the boats are being confiscated and will be sold off, but at least for now, those yachts are being held. And the owners and the crew are not allowed to approach them.

So we've had four over the past few days. You had Igor Sechin's, [INAUDIBLE], which you mentioned the other day was taken in [INAUDIBLE], France. There's been Lena and Lady M were both taken by Italian authorities. And the big one was Alisher Usmanov's Dilbar, which was taken in Germany, Hamburg, Germany. And Dilbar is probably, we believe, the world's biggest privately owned yacht. And I've seen her here in the Port of Barcelona, and she's really enormous.

AKIKO FUJITA: Alex, you know, I have to say, it's been pretty incredible to watch some of these seizures. I think we're all learning the lifestyle of Russian oligarchs, as this crackdown continues. But we've also heard of a lot of yachts, for example, moving to places like the Maldives, where there is not necessarily an extradition treaty in place. I mean, can you talk about the movements this has all prompted? Europe obviously cracking down very hard, but where are some of these billionaires moving their yachts to try and evade the seizure?

ALEX FINLEY: So, well, two points. One, I actually don't think we're seeing a huge crackdown yet in Europe. We've seen in France, Italy, and Germany, like you said, but here in Barcelona, for example, there is one yacht owned by a man, Sergey Chemezov, who is under sanction in the United States. His boat, Valerie, is here in the shipyard undergoing repairs. There are three other yachts here, including Solaris, which is Roman Abramovich's boat. He's not currently under sanction, but he's certainly one of the names that keeps popping up.

But so, you know, those boats are still here. Viktor Vekselberg, who is under sanction in the United States, his yacht is currently in Palma de Mallorca here in Spain. But a lot of the other yachts, yes, have left and have started heading to various different places. A number of them seem to be going to the Maldives or to the Seychelles or are already over in the Arabian Sea near Dubai.

One of the questions about all of this, however, is, you know, where do you put all of these mega yachts? There just are not that many ports in the world that can handle that many large yachts, particularly at the same time. And the facilities to take care of them because of course, these are incredibly technological machines, which require enormous amounts of service and upkeep.

And that knowhow and those services and those shipyards are all here in Europe and in the United States. So one of the questions is going to be, even if they do get away, where do they go? And how do these people manage to upkeep their boats when they don't have access to those services?

JARED BLIKRE: Yeah, and let me just ask you, as a former CIA officer, I think this is a fascinating situation here. Can you tell us about some of the monitoring operations that go on regularly, on a daily basis? As you said, as we know, these are very big vessels. And I would think that they're tracked pretty easily throughout the world. But you tell me that that's not the case. And how do authorities and various NGOs keep their eye on these movements?

ALEX FINLEY: Oh, I don't know that there's any specific government agencies or NGOs or anybody who watch them. There are apps. You know, there's a number of websites. I think a lot of people have discovered vesselfinder.com and marinetraffic.com over the past few days. And these are places where you can watch the-- you watch the movements of some of these ships. So I think people are just starting to learn, you know, you can track these things in real-time.

AKIKO FUJITA: Alex Findlay, Yacht Watch columnist and author of "Victor in the Rubble," former CIA officer as well. Thank you so much for joining us today.