The crew of a yacht arrested in Antigua and Barbuda due to sanctions exchanges the owner’s vintage wine for food
The maintenance of the seized yacht Alfa Nero, which is associated with the sanctioned co-owner of Phosagro Andrei Guryev Sr., has become a nightmare for Antigua and Barbuda, writes The Wall Street Journal. The 82-meter yacht is almost the length of a football field and costs $120 million in the local harbors from February 2022.
For the maintenance of this ship, the dwarf state of Antigua and Barbuda with a population of 93 thousand people is forced to pay $28 thousand per week (about ₽2.7 million; for comparison: the country’s per capita GDP is $18.7 thousand). This amount includes the salary of the Italian captain, as well as the cost of $2,000 a day for diesel fuel to keep the air conditioning running – without it, mold will spread throughout the ship within two days and can damage both the yacht itself and the works of art on board.
According to the WSJ, the crew, originally consisting of 37 people, found themselves in “legal limbo”: payments were blocked due to sanctions. A group of 26 crew members subsequently filed a lawsuit against Antigua and Barbuda, demanding $2.2 million in unpaid wages from the state. As a result, a small part of the crew remained on board to monitor the ship. The six-person crew “destroyed all the yacht’s supplies of champagne, lobster and caviar” and were forced to exchange “antique bottles of wine” stored on the ship for food. According to the captain, the going rate is “two bottles of wine for one tuna.”
Guryev came under US sanctions in August 2022. The US Treasury claimed that the businessman bought the Alfa Nero yacht in 2014 for $120 million. The businessman denied that he was the owner of the vessel. According to The Spectator, according to documents, the yacht belongs to Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd from the British Virgin Islands. It, in turn, is owned by Tyne Trust, whose beneficiary is Guryev’s daughter Yulia Guryeva-Motlokhov.
The trial regarding Guryev’s yacht has been going on on the islands since the spring of this year. Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd., Vita Felice Ltd. — BVI companies, to which the ship and the works of art on it were registered, tried in the spring to challenge the legality of detaining the yacht and putting it up for sale. It is interesting that in a previous lawsuit, the Guryev family argued their request to ban the sale of the yacht by saying that “the applicants will suffer irreparable damage if the vessel is sold before the main requirements are considered.” In the spring, the Guryevs asked for a temporary ban on the sale pending a hearing on the case, claiming that the yacht had sentimental value for them.
The court documents mention Tyne Trust, which manages Guryev’s BVI companies through Opus Private Ltd. It also states that Andrey Guryev is not a beneficiary of the trust, but, according to the relevant Guernsey legislation, he controls the trust.
On June 8, 2023, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Antigua and Barbuda refused to grant the applicants an injunction against the sale of the yacht. A few days later – just before the sale – Yulia Guryeva-Motlokhov filed an injunction, informing that the yacht and the works of art on it belonged to her, as the only adult beneficiary of the Tyne Trust and Flagstaff Trust. […] Taking into account previous court decisions on the yacht, the likelihood that the court will satisfy Guryeva’s claim is not very high.
Despite the fact that the yacht does not legally belong to Guryev himself, the United States classified the vessel as “blocked property,” thus prohibiting it from being rented or sold. And in March 2023, the authorities of Antigua and Barbuda passed a law amendment that allowed the government to auction a vessel “that appears to be sanctioned or subject to the proceeds of crime law.”
Antigua’s port manager then announced that the Alfa Nero was a “derelict vessel” that posed an “imminent threat to harbor safety.” If the yacht capsizes, it will block Falmouth Harbor, “the island’s main financial artery,” writes the WSJ. The port administration said that if the owner does not show up and prove that the yacht is his, it will be considered abandoned, the ship will be confiscated by the government, and then it will be sold at auction.
In April, the yacht came under the control of the port. The Antigua flag was raised above her, and the government covered the cost of maintaining the ship. The authorities explained this decision by the fact that the owner did not contact them. However, according to The Spectator, the CEO of the company that manages Flying Dutchman Overseas Ltd sent a letter to the port management in April, explaining that the owner was seeking the withdrawal of the vessel due to US sanctions, and asked to postpone the sale.
In May 2023, the United States allowed the auction to take place. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt wanted to buy the ship for $67 million. But in the end he abandoned the deal due to litigation. As Bloomberg reported in July, the sale was challenged by Guryev’s daughter, and the authorities of the island state filed a counterclaim.
At the moment, the status of the yacht is still not determined. Hearings on the case will take place in December. According to The Spectator, this case raises serious questions about the rule of law. The authors of the article note that the actual proceeds from the possible sale will not be used to help Ukraine, but “will be transferred to the bank account of the Antigua government,” and this may mean that “piracy has returned to the Caribbean.”
While the crew continues to maintain the ship in proper condition. As noted by the acting yacht captain Andrea Maccaferri, when he heads to St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, he never puts on his uniform – a red polo shirt with the Alfa Nero logo – for fear that he might become the target of a “Russian agent”. He says whoever takes the yacht out of port would not be surprised if “there was a submarine with a red star waiting for her.”