$120 Million Ghost Ship That A Caribbean Nation Is Desperate To Unload
It’s been more than a year since the Russian superyacht Alfa Nero — all 267 feet and 2,500 gross tons of it — was abandoned in Falmouth Harbour, Antigua.Cross the gangway and this $120 million floating palace still looks shipshape, even with just a skeleton crew. Red, white and gray Alfa Nero polo shirts are folded just so atop the baby grand piano. On the wall hangs a Miro. The infinity pool — which converts, via hydraulics, into a helipad — sparkles under the Caribbean sun.And then, on the upper foredeck, in the wood-paneled study of the master suite, lies a clue that life aboard Alfa Nero has taken a very strange turn.It’s a PlayStation with video games like “Call of Duty.” It’s for the bored crew, since no passengers come aboard anymore.Here on the southern shores of Antigua, where the British navy once chased real-life pirates of the Caribbean, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has collided with the hyper-wealth he’s helped mint in today’s Russia.What’s left of the Alfa Nero’s crew, it turns out, has partly commandeered the master suite. The captain sleeps in a guest bedroom, but otherwise the crew mostly remain below deck, leaving the five other luxury cabins, the spa, the gym, the elevator and everything else on board largely unused.Ghost ShipAlfa Nero has been docked here since early March 2022, a ghost ship of the war in Ukraine, 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers) away. Not long after Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, the UK slapped sanctions on its purported owner, fertilizer billionaire Andrey Guryev. The US followed in August, sending FBI agents to search the vessel with local law enforcement.Washington named Guryev as the owner, an allegation the magnate denies. A lawyer for Guryev said he’s used Alfa Nero “from time to time” since 2014. Built in the Dutch shipyard Oceanco in 2007, it was until recently available for charter for about $1 million a week.Just who is the owner is almost impossible to determine from public records given the labyrinthian means many of the world’s ultra-rich employ to mask their wealth and assets. The notice of the ship’s seizure by the Antiguan government is addressed to Guryev, as well as companies in the British Virgin Islands and Channel Islands. On board, Bloomberg saw notes for the crew that had references to “Mr. and Mrs. G.”Since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, the US and its allies have issued sanctions against dozens of wealthy Russians to punish Putin and those close to him. In the process, luxury yachts linked to Russia have been transformed from billionaire playthings into symbols of the growing enmity between Russia and the West. More than two dozen vessels worth about $4 billion have been impounded in ports around the world.Now, Antigua wants to get rid of what it considers an abandoned ship. It formally seized Alfa Nero in April, hoisted an Antiguan flag and, for good measure, posted two security guards on the dock.The harbor-bound Alfa Nero has become a floating hazard, officials say, and an expensive one at that. The crew wants back pay. Diesel for the generator costs a small fortune. Bills have been piling up since Antigua took it over in April, with crew expenses alone costing $112,000 a month.Authorities here have asked the US to lift its sanctions on the yacht so Antigua can auction it off to the highest bidder. They say they’ve received roughly 20 bids already.’Blocked’ PropertyBut as long as Washington continues to designate Alfa Nero as a “blocked” property, the Antiguans worry the proceeds of any sale might end up frozen as banks obey the letter of the law.So they wait.”Nobody’s laid claim to it, nobody’s been paying its bills. It’s been running up money left, right and center, and it has become a risk to the harbor itself,” Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua’s ambassador to the US, said in a telephone interview.Antigua has offered to share the identities of potential bidders with the US to ensure any sale complies with Treasury’s rules, Sanders said. Treasury officials declined to comment.And so, day after week after month, the Alfa Nero bobs in the water at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina. The remaining crew scrubs its teak decks. They polish its black hull to a glossy sheen. Other yachts come and go through the bay.For the time being, the stranded Alfa Nero offers a glimpse into the astronomical expense of simply keeping a superyacht afloat.Its normal crew of 44 has been reduced to six. Twenty-five members have sued to recover $2.1 million in unpaid wages, according to Craig Jacas, a local lawyer representing them.”Our clients’ objective is simply to secure what is lawfully owed to them,” Jacas said.Occasional DipThe six hands still living aboard take meticulous care of Alfa Nero. They occasionally take a dip in the pool. The captain passes idle hours in a folding lawn chair on the port side deck. From his perch, he can spy a fleet of other superyachts gliding through the aquamarine harbor. In April, Mogambo, a 241-footer (73 meters) owned by Jan Koum, the Ukrainian-American billionaire who co-founded WhatsApp, pulled into a slip nearby.Even here, in the relative safety of the marina, sun and sea are a constant menace. Saltwater takes a toll. Alfa Nero must burn diesel constantly to power everything on board. The air conditioning runs 24/7 in order to protect the precious wood, mother of pearl and soft leather adorning the high-design interiors.”You can’t even open the doors on Alfa Nero without diesel,” said Tom Paterson, the dockmaster at the Antigua Yacht Club. “These boats, from the day they launch to the day they die, are burning fossil fuels.”Another growing worry: the calendar. Hurricane season is approaching once again. Other yachts have already begun to clear out. In September, when Tropical Storm Fiona rolled through, heavy seas threatened the dock-bound Alfa Nero. The marina asked the crew to take the ship out to sea — provided Dockmaster Paterson went along, too, to ensure Alfa Nero didn’t make a run for it. “At this point, the marina would like to get paid,” Paterson said.