A £500million superyacht rumoured to belong to Vladimir Putin has been moved out of dry dock and back into the ocean, sparking fears it could be about to flee European waters to escape sanctions on Russia.
The Scheherazade been out of the water at the Porto di Carrara marina near Massa, in northern Italy, since late summer 2020 when it arrived just months after being launched to undergo a re-fit.
But it has now been moved back into the ocean, according to the Daily Telegraph, which also reports that crew members have been spotted taking large tarpaulins off of her deck and carrying out inspections.
That has sparked speculation among locals that the ship – 450ft long and equipped with its own spas, swimming pools, a gym and two helipads – could soon depart the marina.
And it appears the Italian coast guard would have no power to stop it because its owner has still not been firmly established, meaning it cannot be seized under sanctions on Putin’s regime over the Ukraine war.
If the vessel does indeed belong to Putin, it is likely the crew would try to flee EU waters to the relative safe haven of Turkey, following in the wake of vessels belonging to Roman Abramovich and Alexander Abramov.
From there, it could transit the Suez canal to the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, or even the port of Vladivostok – thousands of miles away in the Russian far-east. Boats belonging to the likes of Victor Rashnikov, Oleg Deripaska, Alexei Mordashov and Andrey Kostin have already made that journey.
The Scheherazade, a £500million superyacht that has been in dry dock in northern Italy for the past two years, has now been returned to the water – sparking fears it could flee in an effort to escape sanctions
If the yacht does indeed belong to Putin – or another of his sanctioned oligarchs – it would be expected to sail out of Italy, skirt EU waters through he Mediterranean, and head for the relative safe haven of Turkey
Investigators for Putin arch-rival Alexei Navalny say the boat – which features a dancefloor that lowers to reveal a swimming pool – belongs to the Russian despot because it was almost entirely staffed by secret service agents
An Italian probe into the owner of the boat – which features huge entertaining spaces equipped with a grand piano – has yet to conclude, meaning coast guard are currently powerless to stop it from leaving
Scheherazade is one of the largest and most-expensive privately-owned boats in the world, coming equipped with multiple swimming pools, spas, a gym, and two helipads
Putin’s ‘other yacht’ – a smaller, older vessel named GRACEFUL
Vladimir Putin claims that he is only moderately-wealthy, but is suspected of secretly harboring a $100 billion fortune.
A smaller, older vessel, the Graceful, has long been suspected of belonging to Putin.
Alone among the world’s superyachts, the Graceful’s hull was laid at a Russian naval shipyard, before being finished in Germany, an industry source told DailyMail.com.
The Graceful left port in Germany about two weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and is currently docked at Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, safely out of the reach of Western sanctions.
The Scheherazade, however, is stuck in drydock in Italy undergoing repairs, and a person familiar with the matter said that it would be impossible for it to sail before the end of March.
A smaller, older vessel, the Graceful (seen leaving Hamburg last month), has long been suspected of belonging to Putin
The Graceful left port in Germany on February 7 (above), about two weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and is currently docked at Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, safely out of the reach of Western sanctions
Gabriele, the manager of a yacht club within sight of the Scheherazade, told The Telegraph on Thursday: ‘We heard that it was going to leave the marina last night but maybe it was delayed because of bad weather.
‘It’s not been seized by the authorities so I guess it’s free to go any time.’
Speculation about the Scheherazade’s owner has swirled for years but was alleged to be Putin by an investigative team led by his arch critic Alexei Navalny back in March.
A probe into the vessel’s crew revealed that almost all of them worked for either the FSB or FSO – Russian secret services that are charged with protecting Putin – and routinely flew to and from Moscow on shift rotations.
The only member of the crew who did not work for the secret service was British captain Guy Bennett Pierce, who confirmed that the vessel is Russian-owned but refused to say who the owner is.
Documents for the Scheherazade seen by Navalny’s team show the official owner is an offshore company from the Marshall Islands – a tactic commonly used by the super-rich to conceal their wealth.
Putin is also known to list family or friends as owners, with his name almost never used on official documents.
Shortly after the results of Navalny’s investigation were published, the entire Russian crew vanished and were replaced by Britons. No reason for the replacement was given.
Workers taking part in the vessel re-fit have described it as a miniature floating city – complete with ‘countless swimming pools, a spa, a sauna, a theatre, ballrooms, a gym, [and two helipads.’
The boat even houses its own hospital, workers said, amid rumours that Putin’s health is failing.
The yacht arrived at the port at the end of last summer under the steerage of Captain Bennett-Pearce, who denies that Putin is the owner or has ever been on board.
Paolo Gozzani, of the local CGIL Union, spoke to MailOnline in late March when the Russian crew were suddenly recalled from the Scheherazade. He said: ‘From what I have heard the Russian crew were all replaced during the last few days and now they are all British.
‘It was all a few days, the word from inside is that they were called back to report for military service and now there are armed guards surrounding it as well. You can’t get anywhere near her and the level of security is unbelievable.’
A source at the marina said: ‘You could spot the Russians a mile off they were in the local bars most night, drinking vodka and beer.
‘They were big looking guys and then one day they all just disappeared. To be honest for me they didn’t look like a yacht crew they looked like a small army or security detail.’
The six-deck Scheherazade is one of the largest and most-expensive privately-owned boats in the world – with space equivalent to two apartment blocks.
The yacht has room for 18 guests in nine luxury cabins in addition to a crew of 40, residing in 20 cabins and boasts two helipads, a royal suite, a swimming pool, a spa and a beauty salon.
But since its launch in 2020, the yacht’s true ownership has been cloaked in absolute secrecy.
Currently docked for repairs at the Italian Sea Group shipyard in Marina di Carrara, Italy, the Scheherazade is protected by measures that are extreme even by the ultra-private standards of the superyacht world, with covers hiding its nameplate and a metal barrier erected to partially block the vessel from public view.
For more than a year, workers at the shipyard have speculated that the ship belongs to Putin himself, a source there told MailOnline on March 8. ‘All the whispers were it belonged to Putin,’ the person said.
The source said that the Scheherazade’s crew appear to be Russian, and that a team of Germans working on repairs to the vessel were recalled by their home office after the EU announced its sanctions in early March.
Allies of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny yesterday told Italian authorities that they should seize the Scheherazade because they can prove it belongs to Putin. A sensational video shared on Navalny’s YouTube channel claims that though the captain is British, the rest of the crew are allegedly from the FSO and FSB – two Russian secret services.
The boat’s Russian crew – which numbered about 40 people – were completely replaced by Britons after the Navalny investigation published its findings, with no explanation given
Putin owns almost nothing on paper, using a web of shell companies and the names of friends or family on official documents to hide his assets from world authorities and his own countrymen
However, Captain Guy Bennett-Pearce denied has that Putin owns the Scheherazade or has ever been on board, telling the New York Times: ‘I have never seen him. I have never met him.’
The ship’s name, Scheherazade, is the female protagonist from the Middle Eastern collection of tales known as the One Thousand and One Nights. It is also the title of a symphonic suite by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov that is based on the tales.
The ship reportedly features personal touches for the Russian strongman including a judo gym with framed pictures of Putin’s black belts.
And the Scheherazade carries books The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc, Fashion History from the Kyoto Costume Institute and Photo Icons by Hans-Michael Koetzle.
A worker involved in the yacht’s construction told the Sun: ‘Every surface is marble or gold. There are countless swimming pools, a spa, a sauna, a theatre, ballrooms, a gym, two helipads. It’s like a mini city.
‘There is even a hospital which makes sense when you hear rumours of Putin being terminally ill. It is hard to swallow the fact that the most incredible ship in the world is owned by a man intent on bombing civilians in Ukraine.
‘And it is an unimaginable amount of wealth when the average Russian’s salary is £5,000 a year, and people there are struggling to eat.’
Italian authorities are currently probing whether the opulent vessel should be seized under sanctions against Russia, following the speculation that it could belong to Putin.
Bennett-Pearce declined to identify the Scheherazade’s owner, citing a strict non-disclosure agreement, and would not rule out that the owner is Russian. He did however insist that the owner is not on any sanctions list.
The captain said that Italian investigators had come aboard on March 4 and examined some of the ship’s certification documents, and that he planned to hand over documents identifying the true owner on Tuesday, telling the Times that he had ‘no choice.’
‘I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this will clear the vessel of all negative rumors and speculations,’ Bennett-Pearce told the outlet.
Last night his mother Debbie told The Daily Telegraph: ‘I don’t think for one second that Guy would work for that – whatever you want to call him…murderer.’
But locals in Marina de Carrara have said that most are convinced the superyacht belongs to Putin. Giorgio Petri, 72, told the paper: ‘There’s nothing official, of course, but all the locals say that it is Putin’s. Just look at it.’
The Italian investigation into the ownership of the Scheherazade comes as authorities across Europe have raced to identify and seize yachts tied to Russian oligarchs named in new sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
In early March, French authorities seized the superyacht Amore Vero in the Mediterranean resort town of La Ciotat.
The 289-foot boat is believed to belong to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosneft, which has been on the US sanctions list since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The French Finance Ministry said in a statement that customs authorities boarded the Amore Vero and discovered its crew was preparing for an urgent departure, even though planned repair work was not finished.
The EU has sanctioned dozens of Putin’s inner circle over the war in Ukraine, which has killed thousands of civilians (pictured, damage to the city Kramatorsk), and has seizing their assets in Europe – including yachts
Cemetery workers bury the coffin of Ihor Malets, a member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, after a funeral ceremony at the Lychakiv cemetery in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
A pedestrian takes a picture as she walks past the wreckage of a Russian armoured vehicle outside the National Museum of Military History of Ukraine in Kyiv
Sanctioned steel baron Alexei Mordashov’s 213-foot Lady M was seized by Italian authorities on March 4 while it was moored in the Riviera port town of Imperia.
And in Sanremo, Italy, authorities seized the Lena, a yacht belonging to Putin ally and oil billionaire Gennady Timchenko.
The 511-foot Dilbar, which is likely the largest superyacht in the world, is currently under orders to remain in port at Hamburg as officials there try to determine its ownership.
Russian oligarchs account for a significant portion of the global superyacht market. Of all the superyacht projects over 164 feet that are in build or on order, Russians make up 17 per cent of all owners, according to Boat International.
It has fueled speculation about the Scheherazade, whose ownership remains one of the biggest mysteries in the yachting world.
The industry website SuperYachtFan, which estimates the boat’s cost at $700 million, believes that the Scheherazade has room for a crew of about 40 and around 18 passengers.
The Scheherazade was constructed by the German firm Lürssen under the management of Imperial Yachts, a company based in Monaco.
Imperial Yachts also manages the Amore Vero, the seized yacht belonging to Sechin, according to Reuters. An industry source told MailOnline that ‘ninety percent of the Russians have Imperial manage their boats.’
A spokesman for Imperial said that the company is not operationally responsible for the Scheherazade, but only supervised construction.
‘As a company we comply with all applicable relevant law and regulation in all jurisdictions in which the company operates,’ the spokesman said in a statement.
Imperial, led by CEO Evgeniy Kochman, is believed to have four other projects underway at the Italian Sea Group shipyard. The owners of those projects were not immediately clear.
Officially, the Scheherazade’s registered owner is Bielor Assets Ltd, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, and the boat is flagged in the Cayman Islands.
Speculation about a connection between the vessel and Putin has run rampant in Marina di Carrara since the boat first docked there last winter, a source said.
The person said that workers at the shipyard believed the initial owner was Middle Eastern, but that at some point the boat was sold to Putin or another wealthy Russian.
The SuperYachtFan site has also speculated that the owner of the boat could be a Middle Eastern billionaire.
Officially, Putin has a declared net worth of about $150,000 and very few assets. But the Russian leader’s true wealth, thought by some to be as much as $100 billion, though it has never been confirmed.
Forbes recently called it ‘the most elusive riddle in wealth hunting.’
Nevertheless, Putin’s fondness for luxury yachts is well established. He has previously been photographed on yachts from the Black Sea in the south the Russia’s northern regions. Last May, he took a yacht cruise with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko near the Black Sea resort of Sochi.