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Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Seized so Many of Those Russian Superyachts

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The Russian super yacht Amadea in San Diego Bay.

Image: Gregory Bull (AP)

All those Russian superyachts that got seized when Russia invaded Ukraine are turning out to be money pits. Bloomberg reports that seized Russian superyachts are sitting at ports all over and running into money pits. And taxpayers may be the ones opening their wallets to maintain them.

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, countries around the world wondered what they could do to stick it to Russia and anyone involved with the Russian war machine. An easy and big target? The superyachts of Russian oligarchs. All across the world, superyachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars were seized and impounded at ports. The U.S. seized seven yachts.

On its face, the seizures were a win. It looked like we were sticking it to the Russians without actually getting involved in the war. But in the months since the invasion began, the superyachts are turning into floating money pits. We’re essentially paying to maintain these yachts.

Just how expensive is it? Estimates are putting the cost of yachts in U.S. and Italian custody at some $50 million per year. Officials in France and Spain claim that their taxpayers aren’t the ones covering the costs of maintaining the yachts. But U.S. officials have essentially admitted that taxpayers are the ones paying for these things to sit.

Speaking to Bloomberg, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the whole thing ridiculous: “You know what the craziest thing is? When we seize one, we have to pay for upkeep. Some people are basically being paid to maintain Russian superyachts on behalf of the United States government.”

For instance, the $325 million superyacht Amadea sitting moored in San Diego has accumulated docking fees of $120,000 since it’s been there. That’s not including the skeleton crew required to maintain it as part of its insurance coverage, as well as other fees. Estimates put the cost of maintaining the Amadea at $10 million a year.

What’s worse is the fact that no one seems to know what to do with the yachts. One superyacht recently sold at auction in Europe, but that was only to cover the debt owed by the owner. Selling these things is hard because who wants a yacht that’s been seized? It’s kryptonite for buyers. U.S. lawmakers are currently drawing up plans to figure out how to sell these superyachts. Until then, these massive examples of greed and luxury will continue to sit at ports around the country. And the public will continue to pay for it without even realizing it.

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