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According to Bloomberg data, at least nine Russian superyachts have broken international maritime guidelines by turning off their AIS transponders, a boat’s satellite tracking signal, to “go dark” while trying to reach safe havens.
While the transponders are off, the superyachts have invariably sailed for the Russian port of Vladivostok or other friendly harbours, typically in the Middle East or Maldives.
Meanwhile, Russian business tycoon Alisher Usmanov, who has a net worth of almost $25 billion, is desperately trying to stop his $417 million megayacht Alaiya being seized in the aftermath of losing his most prized marine asset, the $830 million Dilbar.
Two weeks ago, Germany authorities snared Dilbar, the world’s largest superyacht, after they unpicked what agents described as a complex financial web which eventually revealed the giant ship was owned by Mr Usmanov’s sister.
In an attempt to avoid sanctions, authorities claimed Mr Usmanov has shifted assets and cash into the names of his sisters.
Yesterday, marine tracking websites showed Mr Usmanov’s 111-metre Alaiya raising anchor in the Maldives’ atolls, south-west of India.
It is not clear where the Alaiya could now be headed.
The high stakes, cat and mouse game between oligarch superyachts and global law enforcement agencies is unfolding in oceans and ports around the globe.
It is thought the 106-metre Amadea, worth $436 million, was trying to sail across the Pacific to Vladivostok, when it docked in Fiji.
One superyacht which successfully made that journey was the 140-metre Nord, a $690 million vessel owned by steel billionaire Alexei Mordashov, now safely anchored in Vladivostok after departing the Maldives in March.
Some ships will “go dark” to try and avoid detection, Gur Sender of Windward, a marine surveillance and intelligence firm, told 9news.com.au.
“Sometimes vessels can intentionally and manually turn off their AIS and engage in what’s referred to as dark activities,” he said.
“Vessels engaging in such a behaviour are usually trying to conceal their real location or who they are meeting with.”
There are a few instances when vessels can switch off their AIS transponders, Mr Sender said, such as when they are under threat of piracy, otherwise international regulations require all passenger ships to broadcast their positions.
Italy have seized an $808 million superyacht, called Sailing Yacht A, owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko.
Authorities have also detained Gennady Timchenko’s Lena in the coastal city of Sanremo and Alexei Mordashov’s Lady M has been impounded in Imperia.
Superyachts linked to Igor Sechin, Sergei Chemenov, Alexander Mikheev, Dmitrievich Pumpyansky have been seized in Spain and Gibraltar.