The superyachts of russian oligarchs are often built in dutch shipyards

The superyachts of Russian oligarchs are often built in Dutch shipyards

Deep in Brabant is one of the workshops of the Russian elite. From the Meuse, just beyond Maasbommel, a canal runs between meadows with sheep and schoolchildren bending over the wheel, to an industrial area with sheds and piles of rubble and even a few container cranes, to end at about twelve massive in a dead end closed doors through which only the smell of sprayed paint can escape.

Heesen Yachts, it says in the white brick office, under a logo with a compass cross. The silver letters are the only thing that shines in the distant surroundings.

Behind these doors, in the part of Brabant best known for its smoked sausages and contraceptive pills and the pigs from which they are made, hide some of the coming showpieces of the Russian kleptocracy: superyachts, the caravans of the super-rich. Heesen is not only one of the large shipyards in the Netherlands where these are built, but is also owned by a Russian oligarch, a man who has become wealthy with former Soviet Union state property and is now turning collective wealth into exclusive opulence. .

Vagit Alekperov, a 71-year-old former state secretary for oil affairs and now a major shareholder in oil company Lukoil, bought the Heesen family business in 2008 and has had at least three superyachts built for him since then. The latter, the Galactica, sailed in January via the Burgemeester Delenkanaal through a just-long lock and under just-high-enough bridges to Harlingen, where the ship is completed and now awaits its first major voyage, towards a port where winter coats are no longer needed.

But he will have to wait for that.

Twelve yachts on the chain

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Wobke Hoekstra announced that twelve yachts under construction at Dutch shipyards may not be "delivered, transferred or exported" for the time being. Galactica appears to be one of them, as "one of the yachts is nearing completion," Hoekstra wrote. "Under customs supervision took place on 2. April the first sea trial took place."

Alekperov is on "Putin's List," a list of friends of the Russian dictator compiled by the U.S. Treasury Department. He was one of the oligarchs who was arrested on 24. February, the day of the attack on Ukraine, were summoned to the Kremlin to show his support for Vladimir Putin. However, it has not yet received sanctions.

Also for the other eleven yachts, Hoekstra writes, it seems that ultimately beneficial owners (ubo's), i.e. the ultimate owners hidden in all BVs, are not personally on the sanctions list. But they are Russians, and therefore the ships can not be delivered: Since 15. March there is a general ban on exports of luxury goods over 300 euros to Russians. The yachts are certainly part of it. There are also two yachts – one of which until recently was owned by Roman Abramovich – under supervision that are now being serviced. Another maintenance order was canceled.

What does this mean for this distinctive sector of the Dutch economy? And how is it that this rural country has become such an important producer of such high-quality bling?

Six major Dutch shipyards

There are about six large shipyards in the Netherlands, some of which have been building motor yachts for decades and together account for a quarter of the world's superyachts (longer than 40 meters): Heesen in Oss, Damen in Vlissingen, Oceanco in Alblasserdam, Royal Huisman in Vollenhove, Hakvoort in Monnickendam and Feadship, a consortium of several shipyards, in De Kaag, Aalsmeer, Makkum and Amsterdam. In the past ten years, they have sold about two hundred superyachts worldwide, between 10 and 20 percent of them to Russians.

Around the sites is an ecosystem of suppliers, from designers and furniture manufacturers to installers of air conditioning, elevators and swimming pools. The total turnover of superyachts is estimated at 2 billion euros per year, and total employment at ten thousand people.

The lines run across the country. Take the Phi. The design came from Cor de Rover in Rotterdam, the engineering from Van Oossanen in Wageningen, the interior from Struik& Hamerslag in Strijen, the curved saloon doors of Rondal in Vollenhove. "This is the strength of the Netherlands, that we have such an extensive network of specialists and suppliers," says Merijn de Waard, who became editor of the Yacht Spotter. Superyacht times, the newspaper and at the same time the most important data collector in the industry. "The paths are short, there is a lot of know-how."

According to Feadship spokesperson Farouk Nefzi, these specialists are important because the Netherlands has traditionally been good at complex "specials," vessels designed specifically for certain tasks, whether dredgers or superyachts. "Then it helps if you have companies that know exactly how to make such a detail or how to insert it."

"Sanctions do not help one bit"

In Amsterdam, the entrepreneur Wim Beelen, who made his money with waste, wants to build a real superyacht tech campus for it. A cluster of suppliers and other specialists is to be created on the site of the former Amsterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, where yachts will be built, finished and, above all, serviced. Most yachts need to be returned to the yard every few years for parts replacement and a fresh coat of paint. Or is he afraid that his plan will fail if his Russian customers are not allowed to come anymore? "I think it's so pointless, these sanctions. If you want to do something, you have to do it there, in Ukraine. Now you give hope to these people, but it doesn't help anything. It only hurts ourselves.'

So the sanctions are affecting much more than just the builders. From designers to air conditioning suppliers: Everyone needs to pay attention. "I look at an update of the sanctions list every day," says Cor de Rover. The Phi, the last ship he designed, was detained by British authorities in London last week, although owner Kochetkov is not on the sanctions list. "It will be accompanied by a lot of fanfare and muscular demonstration. But there will still be sanctions, and they expect that to happen."

The Phi is not the only hijacked ship. Two days ago, the Feadship-built yacht Tango was also detained by Spanish authorities in Mallorca. Its owner is Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg. French authorities seized the Amore Vero from Igor Setsyin, the head of the Rosneft oil company, who was also Putin's deputy chief between 2008 and 2012 and is still a quiet force in his regime. The Amore Vero was sold by Oceanco to Setsjin in 2013 for just over 100 million. The Madame Gu, owned by parliamentarian, Putin confidant and steel magnate Andrei Skotsj, escaped the dance and fled to Dubai. "Sleek and fast, with exquisite exterior details, this finely carved masterpiece is sure to make a splash in marinas around the world," predicted builder Feadship in 2013.

No comment from the shipyards

How many ships can now no longer be delivered to Russian customers, most shipyards do not want to say. Even much sought-after designers for Russian ships such as Sander Sinot in Eemnes cannot comment on the impact on its order book. The superyacht industry is an industry with products that should stand out but not attract attention.

"No, we never communicate about Damen Yachting's customers," said a spokesman for Damen, which is rumored to have two Russian vessels under construction. Oceanco, which probably has the most Russian portfolio and will have to stop building two of the six ships, says nothing. Feadship and Heesen say they are not hit hard. "Our Russian clientele is only 2 percent of the total," says Nefzi. "The sanctions have a limited impact on the number of customers," said a spokesman for Heesen, which also operates a Russian-language website. "The demand for Dutch yachts is so great that we can serve it and don't expect any layoffs."

Silence is part of the industry, says everyone who talks about it. "We build private property, so ownership is often secret. We want to respect the privacy of the customers," says Nefzi of Feadship. According to him, his company's clients are often entrepreneurs, especially from the United States, who have made a lot of money and just want to "cocoon," either on a family trip around the world or quietly anchored off a South Pacific island . What about those marketing images of men in baggy linen shirts and women on the sun deck? And the marketing texts to stand out in the marinas of this world? "Our customers are different. Everyone has their own desires, just like other people. You can't generalize.'

Toys for the super rich

What you can generalize is that the buyers are people with money. Oceanco's directions describe where the nearest private airport (Rotterdam) is and how to get from there to Alblasserdam by helicopter. Oceanco is also the shipyard that dismantled and rebuilt a Rotterdam bridge so Jeff Bezos' sailing ship could pass through. Steven Spielberg's yacht being completed doesn't require special surgery.

Part of the criticism of the yacht industry, according to Nefzi, is explained by this enormous luxury, among other things. "We make very visible products, I understand that. If you buy a piece of art for the same amount of money, it hangs in a depot somewhere and no one else crows. We can't do anything about rich and poor, that's just the way it is. What we can do is translate that richness into quality for our clients. And so some of their money ends up in the Netherlands, with artisans and craftsmen in the manufacturing industry. And whether that ends up going to the wrong owners? Somewhere in the world there is always conflict. We pay a lot of attention to norms and values. We are royalty after all."

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