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News / Northwest

A seized superyacht shows up in Everett — minus one Russian oligarch owner

Ship was seized in 2022 after owner was accused of ties to Russian aggression in Ukraine, money laundering and conspiracy

By Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times
Published: May 6, 2024, 7:36am

EVERETT — It’s not clear whether Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov had plans to visit Puget Sound this spring — the French Riviera is more the style of the U.S.-sanctioned mining and energy multibillionaire.

But Monday morning, the Amadea, a 348-foot, $300 million-plus superyacht said to be owned by Kerimov, arrived in the Port of Everett to have some work done at a local shipyard.

A sleek, white shark of a ship with a knifelike bow, raked profile and quarters for 16 guests and 36 crew, Amadea swanned past Everett’s industrial waterfront with a tug escort and all the made-for-TV glamour of an international celebrity fugitive. Kerimov, of course, was not on board.

In 2022, Amadea (“God’s love” in Latin) was seized in Fiji at the request of U.S. authorities who claim Kerimov has enabled Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria. Money laundering and conspiracy were also alleged.

At the time, the seizure was hailed as a warning to “every corrupt Russian oligarch that they cannot hide — not even in the remotest part of the world,” as a deputy U.S. attorney general put it in a press statement.

But as any boat owner in this boat-focused community will tell you, seizing a superyacht is one thing. Maintaining its value as an asset is another — especially when the asset is the size of a ferry and equipped with a theater, a gym, beauty salon, teak decks, 30-foot-long pool, helipad and twin 5,766-horsepower diesels.

“They’re saying it’s costing us $7 million a year to keep it up,” said Chris Petersen, a retired fisherman who runs a metal coatings shop on West Marine View Drive, a few blocks from the port and who, like many here, has been following the superyacht saga since Monday.

Indeed, fuel, maintenance, insurance and salary for the crew of Amadea during its impoundment in San Diego ran around $740,000 a month, according to federal court filings by the Marshals Service.

In February, the Justice Department told a federal court it intended to halt this “excessive … drain on the public” purse by auctioning off Amadea, which the government claims Kerimov acquired in 2021.

But selling off this excessive drain has been complicated.

There is litigation challenging Amadea’s seizure because the vessel allegedly wasn’t owned by Kerimov, but by another Russian oligarch, who is not sanctioned, according to court papers.

Another complication, more relevant to Everett: Amadea’s insurance policy, according to court filings, requires service that can only be done by hauling the vessel out of the water — a job that appears to be slated for the dry dock facilities at Everett Ship Repair, on the port’s East Waterway.

Few details of the project have been shared. Port officials have referred all questions to Everett Ship Repair, whose vice president of service sales, Lane Richards, politely declined to comment.

But a Justice Department spokesperson confirmed Thursday that Amadea was indeed “in Washington for standard dry dock maintenance.”

And on Wednesday, the vessel in question could be seen berthed, like a slightly lost Imperial Starship, on the south side of Pier 3, adjacent to Everett Ship Repair’s dry dock and the Washington State Ferry Salish.

All the no-commenting has only added to the atmosphere of maritime intrigue and speculation in a town ordinarily unperturbed by big, secrecy-shrouded ships, including those at the nearby Everett Naval Station.

Many here wonder why the U.S. government spent the money to bring Amadea all the way to Everett, when there are dry dock facilities in San Diego, San Francisco and Portland; even Seattle is 5 nautical miles closer to San Diego.

Amadea’s fuel burn “is probably in the 8-to-10 gallons per mile range,” said Dennis Butterfield, a retired car dealership manager and former boat owner, as he kept an eye on the Russian superyacht Wednesday from a viewpoint on Warren Avenue. “That’s the United States government at work, if you ask me.”

Butterfield’s estimate was close: based on vessel specifications featured on the yachting website, YachCharterFleet, the 4,400-ton Amadea burns roughly 11 gallons per mile at a cruising speed of 15 mph.

The Justice Department declined to justify Amadea’s four-day journey from San Diego to Everett.

Such secrecy would likely suit Kerimov, who Forbes once described as “one of the most private Russian billionaires,” and who is also said to have close ties to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 58-year-old serves in the Russian Federation Senate, is reportedly worth nearly $11 billion and has owned villas on the French Riviera and elsewhere.

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He may also have owned a rare Fabergé egg, according to accounts of the search of the Amadea after its seizure.

Beginning in 2017, Kerimov was listed by U.S. officials as one of a number of Russian oligarchs “who profit from the Russian government through corruption and its malign activity around the globe.”

In March 2022, after the FBI reportedly linked Kerimov to the Amadea, the vessel was seized under a program known as Task Force KleptoCapture and eventually sailed to San Diego under an American flag.

But Amadea’s more recent trip likely had less to do with the vessel’s checkered lineage than with a shortage of West Coast dry dock capacity, especially for large vessels.

Unlike the East Coast and the Gulf Coast, ship repair infrastructure on the West Coast is “is woefully undersized,” said Craig Hooper, a former naval ship building industry executive who writes and advises on security and defense issues.

In recent decades, several private shipyards with dry dock facilities have closed and building new capacity faces high costs and regulatory hurdles, Hooper said. As a result, “long transits to an open facility are relatively commonplace these days,” he added.

In the case of the Amadea, Hooper hypothesized, “the responsible party may have put the job out for bid and an Everett yard was the available, lowest-cost option.”

According to court filings, Amadea’s dry dock work is expected to cost $5.6 million and take two months.

By that time, federal officials may have sorted Amadea’s other complications.

Last fall, attorneys for Eduard Khudainatov, the former head of state-owned oil company Rosneft, claimed Amadea isn’t owned by Kerimov, but by Khudainatov. Attorneys argue that since Khudainatov wasn’t under sanctions, the yacht was “not forfeitable, as it neither constitutes nor is derived from any unlawful activity.”

But federal prosecutors contend “that Khudainatov is just a straw owner put forward to disguise Kerimov’s ownership of the vessel,” according to an April 19 filing in a federal court in New York, where the case is ongoing.

In the meantime, Everett will take some pleasure in the Amadea’s august presence.

Port of Everett officials, though tight-lipped about the vessel’s particulars, were clearly pleased by the message it sends of the port’s growing status as a maritime hub.

“Anything that puts Everett on the international map is a good thing!” said Kate Anderson, port spokesperson, in an email response to an inquiry about the Amadea.

Locals, too, appeared to be enjoying the celebrity by association.

“That magnitude of wealth — it’s just another world,” said Petersen, the retired fisherman.

Others wondered who would be foolish enough to buy a vessel whose ownership was being contested by Russian oligarchs.

But mostly, folks here appeared to sympathize with Uncle Sam’s desire to be rid of the costly, controversial craft.

That was the sentiment of John Mostrom, who had taken a break from mowing his lawn Wednesday to peer down at the Amadea from the Warren Avenue overlook.

“They say the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life,” Mostrom noted, “are when they buy the boat and when they sell it.”

(c)2024 The Seattle Times

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