Alaska Congressman Don Young is among several U.S. House members trying to punish Russian oligarchs following Moscow’s attack on Ukraine. The 25-term Republican says he’s drafting a bill to “authorize the seizure of Russian yachts and commercial vessels currently within the waters of the United States.”
Don Young says in a news release that America’s support for Ukraine should include moves to seize the assets of, in his words, “rich Russian oligarchs who continue living lavish lifestyles on mega-yachts, all while their thuggish friend Vladimir Putin reigns terror upon innocent, peaceful Ukrainians.”
“Putin and his elite enablers must be driven from all areas of global commerce and public life,” Young’s statement continues.
Young’s spokesperson, Zack Brown, says the forthcoming bill would require Russian vessels to be seized and auctioned off to benefit humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. He says that goes beyond a White House proposal unveiled in recent days to “freeze” Russian yachts and mansions.
“The language in the BOATS Act, ‘seize,’ is more forceful than the White House order to ‘freeze,’ which is a bit more vague in definition,” Brown said by email. “Congressman Young’s bill mandates the seizure of Russian vessels.”
One of Young’s House colleagues has suggested a bill to ban travel visas for Russian officials, oligarchs and their families. Others have proposed seizing Russian-owned villas, private jets and bank accounts.
Meanwhile, governors and local officials are trying to ban Russian vodka from state-run liquor stores, divest pension funds of Russian holdings and cancel sister city relationships.
Not uncommon in Alaska
Lists of yachts reportedly owned by Russian billionaires are circulating online. And as it happens, the hulking vessels are not all that uncommon to see along the Alaska coast.
Ketchikan Harbormaster Dan Berg says they’re generally too big to tie up at the city’s docks, but he recalls seeing Russian oligarchs’ boats from time to time — like a 390-foot superyacht that anchored off the coast of Ketchikan in 2014.
“The biggest one I can remember, the most memorable one, was the A, the yacht is called. And it’s a real kind of stealth-looking design with funny angles.” Berg said in a phone interview Monday. “When that one was here several years ago, it anchored up out in front of Ward Cove for several days.”
The $300 million yacht A is currently in the Dubai area, according to MarineTraffic.com. As of 2018, it was owned by Russian industrialist Andrey Melnichenko. The fertilizer magnate also reportedly owns a sailing superyacht — which is also named A.
While there is currently a superyacht moored off the tip of Ketchikan’s Pennock Island, the 164-foot Jackpot is not thought to be Russian-owned. SuperYacht Times says the vessel was delivered to two unnamed New Jerseyians in 2019.
The harbormaster in Juneau, Matthew Creswell, says a few Russian yachts stick out in his mind.
“The last one I remember was either 2018 or 2019 — pre-COVID, of course — real large, 300-foot yacht that was in town early in the season,” Creswell said in a phone interview Monday. “I think the owner came in for a bear hunt or something.”
He says he can’t quite remember the name. But the Juneau Empire newspaper’s archives feature a photo of the 292-foot superyacht Here Comes the Sun, reportedly owned by Georgian-Russian oilfield service tycoon Alexander Dzhaparidze, in Auke Bay in 2018.
A Russian billionaire is visiting #Juneau on his $150 million luxury yacht, Here Comes The Sun. It's currently docked at Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay.
📸 by Angelo Saggiomo | Juneau Empire pic.twitter.com/kgKr5ZUV1A
— Juneau Empire (@JuneauEmpire) June 19, 2018
That one’s currently docked on a Spanish island in the Mediterranean.
Ownership often obscured
But the Juneau harbormaster says it’s not always easy to tell what megayachts belong to Russian oligarchs and which belong to regular run-of-the-mill billionaires.
“Lots of times, we don’t know exactly who the real owner of a boat is — because they’re owned, most of the time, through corporations,” Creswell said.
And they don’t exactly make it known that they’re Russian. The Here Comes the Sun — and, for that matter, both the yachts named A — none of them fly Russian flags. All fly so-called “flags of convenience”: Here Comes the Sun flies a Cayman Islands flag. The motor yacht A flies a British flag, and its sailing counterpart claims Bermuda as its home country.
Even so, Young’s spokesperson, Zack Brown, says he’s confident in the military and intelligence community’s ability to identify Russian individuals attempting to enter U.S. waters.
Proposal would go beyond yachts
Young’s proposal wouldn’t just require the seizure of pleasure yachts — the Dean of the House’s statement lists Russian commercial vessels as targets for seizure.
The port director for the City of Unalaska’s International Port of Dutch Harbor, Peggy McLaughlin, says the world’s No. 1 seafood port doesn’t see too many yachts.
“We occasionally see (Russian-flagged) research and survey vessels. There are a certain amount of fuel tankers that come through from time to time,” she said by phone Monday.
She says a Russian vessel was just there on Friday as part of an international effort to track the impact of climate change on Pacific salmon.
“It actually docked after the conflict had broken out,” McLaughlin said. “It was highly scrutinized by Homeland Security — their purpose, their crew members did not get off the vessel.”
Fortunately for the salmon expedition, Young’s spokesperson says the Congressman’s forthcoming bill “would not include non-commercial research vessels.”
Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin contributed reporting from Anchorage.