Oligarchs with yachts

Yo ho, me hearties! A fat ship off the port bow! Roll out the cannons and let the black flag fly!

Soon to be oligarchs without yachts, I hope. The sanctions might be beginning to sting.

BBC understands that some oligarchs sanctioned by the European Union are “shocked” to find their debit cards no longer function, and they are now relying on using cash from safes.

The French acted quickly on Wednesday when customs officers noticed that Mr Sechin’s 88-metre “Amore Vero” – which translates as “true love” – was “taking steps to sail off urgently”.

It arrived in in the Mediterranean port of La Ciotat in January and had been due to stay there while being repaired until 1 April.

In Hamburg shipyard authorities seized Mr Usmanov’s 156-metre ‘Dilbar’, the world’s largest motor yacht by gross tonnage, according to Forbes magazine.

Seizing half-billion dollar yachts seems like a fair cop to me. Take ’em all. Although I don’t know what you can do with a seized yacht; they’re rather useless luxuries, expensive to maintain. The lack of utility is the only thing preventing me for getting letters of marque and embarking on a pirate’s life.

Texas Republican Rep. Lance Gooden is expected to roll out a measure Monday that would allow private U.S. citizens to seize yachts, planes or other property belonging to sanctioned Russian citizens amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Gooden would do it with legislation requiring President Biden to issue letters of marque and reprisal, an enumerated power of Congress mentioned in Article 1 of the Constitution, which were routinely used during the War of 1812 for Americans to seize property on behalf of the U.S. government, but have not been issued since.

“Putin and his inner circle still have yachts and planes sitting in harbors and airports all over the world,” Gooden told Fox News Digital. “The United States must use every tool at our disposal to seize them and hold Russia accountable for the disgusting invasion of Ukraine. The oligarchs who enabled this crisis are a good place to start.”

Uh, question. I’m see the word “oligarch” all over the place, and it only seems to be applied to Russians. But this is not what “oligarch” means, and it has no obligate connection to Russia.

Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos) ‘few’, and ἄρχω (arkho) ‘to rule or to command’)[1][2][3] is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may or may not be distinguished by one or several characteristics, such as nobility, fame, wealth, education, or corporate, religious, political, or military control.

I’m all for privateers boarding and taking over yachts (preferable debarking the passengers and crew safely somewhere), but I don’t like that everyone seems to think it’s specifically a Russian thing. America has oligarchs.

You know, Jeff Bezos bought a yacht to accompany his super-yacht. His super-yacht is so big that he pressured a Dutch city to dismantle a historic bridge so he can get it out of the shipyard.

The Amazon founder’s 417-foot-long, three-masted ship that cost’s roughly $500 million is under construction in the Netherlands, but the pleasure boat will be too tall to pass under Rotterdam’s landmark Koningshaven Bridge, which has a 130-foot clearance, according to the NL Times, which cited Dutch-language outlet Rijnmond.

As a work-around, the megabillionaire and the boatmaker Oceano reportedly asked Rotterdam officials to temporarily dismantle the iconic bridge, and pledged to reimburse the city for expenses.

Taking apart and reassembling the middle section of the bridge known locally as “De Hef” was expected to take more than two weeks, the paper said. Rotterdam officials touted Bezos’ pet project as a revenue generator.

The citizens of Rotterdam have suggested an entirely inappropriate response.

The city has not yet signed off on any bridge construction, but according to Jalopnik, some aggrieved residents are ready to take matters into their own hands. “Rotterdam was built from the rubble by Rotterdammers and we don’t just take it apart for the phallus symbol of a megalomaniac billionaire. Not without a fight,” reads a Facebook post calling for protesters to throw their old eggs at the boat as it sails by (per Jalopnik’s translation.)

No. Just no. This is a terrible idea. Don’t throw rotten eggs at the boat. Instead, organize boarding parties, storm the dock, take control of the boat, throw the crew overboard, and set sail for the South Pacific. If Bezos is aboard at the time, even better: make him walk the plank.

No pity for oligarchs!


  1. says

    As the Houthis have demonstrated, anti-tank missiles work pretty well against ships. I’m just saying it’d be a shame if someone blew a hole in that thing and the Hermes seat covers got all wet.

  2. F.O. says

    Sink them in places where coral reefs need surfaces to colonize.

    It’s really nice than every now and then some rich fucks are mildly inconvenienced.

  3. wzrd1 says

    Well, if I bought a vessel that wouldn’t fit under a bridge, I’d have the excessive height part of the vessel dismantled, as it’s my problem and I’ll not force a populace to endure my problem. I’d also have a few terse words with the builders, as they sure as hell should’ve known it was too damned high to pass under the bridge.

    As or letters of marque, one small problem. Every European nation signed the Congress of Paris that outlawed the practice. While we’re not signatories, we’d then run the risk of being proclaimed pirates, no better than the pirates of Barbary. That’s widely considered excessively naughty.
    Still, I am in the market for a bargain patrol boat. I’ll rehab it and demil anything needing teeth pulled, then convert it to a nice house boat.

  4. Snarki, child of Loki says

    I hear that a lot of Russian oligarchs have houses in London, as a way of laundering their ill-gotten gains.

    But it can be hard to track them down. SO:

    Just lock up all the London houses owned by anyone named “Boris” to start with. It’s a twofer!

  5. jsrtheta says

    Empowering private citizens to seize personal property is a good way to get someone killed. It’s also likely unconstitutional.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    “Although I don’t know what you can do with a seized yacht”
    Aye, matey! Those sissy boats probably are only stocked with wine and champagne, nary a cask of ale nor a bottle of rum to be found. And where are the cannon ports?

  7. davidc1 says

    That twat faced twat johnson is giving his mega rich Russian mates 30 days head start before he comes alooking for their
    A Russian olie has been found dead has been found dead in his Surrey pad.
    @2 Drop a cow on them as they passed up the dismantled bridge.

  8. macallan says

    The lack of utility is the only thing preventing me for getting letters of marque and embarking on a pirate’s life.

    That would make you a privateer, not technically a pirate.

  9. direlobo says

    As much as I like to bash Bezos and billionaires (and I do) I think this bridge thing is a red herring. The builder, Oceanco, routinely builds yachts in the 300-400ft range and from what I understand, they have dismantled this exact bridge in the past, more than once, to allow them to move boats out of the canal system into the ocean. And even if this information is incorrect (I cannot prove it) I don’t think Bezos is to blame – if anything its the builder who is to blame, it’s the builder who contracted to build this yacht and (presumably) assured their client that the boat could in fact be delivered and was not intended to spend eternity in a Dutch canal. I am trying to imagine the meeting that would have occurred before construction began where they told Bezos team “Sure, we can build it, but it will never be able to leave the canal” and then Bezos replying “Don’t worry, I’ll pay them off somehow to remove the bridge”. I just can’t see that happening. But maybe my imagination is not working hard enough.

  10. says

    Words can acquire new meaning over time. In relation to Russia (end Ukraine) it means people who got rich and powerful exploiting state resources for private gain. Norilsk Nickel was state company, it was acquired by oligarch as political favor and now the profits are helping those who did the favor first.

    IN USA it works differently, people get rich and buy themselves politicians, who owes his position to rich man and helps him enrich himself even further

  11. answersingenitals says

    The current Russian government is most definitely not an oligarchy. An oligarchy means rule by a committee and the usual example is the oligarchy that ruled ancient Greece after their democratic form of government was disbanded by Macedonia. (The Greek democracy was a democracy in the true sense of the word with every qualified citizen able to vote on every issue and also able to sit on every jury. Some juries had over 1,500 jurors.). Russia’s current form of government is ironically a feudal aristocracy in which the country is divided into several (economic) dukedoms, each ruled by an all powerful and extravagantly wealthy duke, and the whole country ruled by the most powerful and wealth archduke. What is so ironic about this is that the communist revolution was intended to rid the country of exactly this kind of governance. Least we Americans be too smug about this state of affairs in Russia, that is exactly the form of government the US is headed towards.

  12. Cristian Eigel says

    Same Oligarchs and other rich dudes with yachts buy apartments and houses all around the world making it almost impossible for someone to buy an apartment in a bigger city. I say take the yachts and turn them into living quarters for teachers.

    And yes, since we start with the yachts of Russian billionaires, why stop at nationality? Destroy all the yachts and private planes.

  13. Jean says

    drew @16: I was thinking the exact same thing. And it could also house refugees which would be quite appropriate. And seize funds from all the owners to pay for food and maintenance.

  14. robro says

    Indeed, oligarchs are everywhere. Here’s some (unvetted) background on the use of the term “oligarch” specific to Russia (and Ukraine) in a piece titled, What is a Russian oligarch?…and note where it starts:

    The term “oligarch” was used in Soviet parlance in the late 1970s and early 1980s to describe magnates in Latin American states allied with the United States. Soviet newspapers would describe workers in Peru, Panama, Argentina or Chile as fighting against “American imperialism and local oligarchs”. In the Cold War great game, oligarchs were the agents of international capital in general and the United States in particular.

    By 1990, the word “oligarch” in Russian newspapers started to refer to national and local party officials and other potentates. The term didn’t take on a more economic dimension until the mid-1990s, however, when journalists began reflecting on perestroika as a time of “nomenklatura capitalism” and sound the alarm that post-Soviet Russia was quickly becoming an “oligarchy and not a democracy”.

    The lack of discourse about Russian oligarchs as very rich and politically influential in these early post-Soviet years is, in part, a result of how the new elite emerged. According to [sociologist Olga] Kryshtanovskaya, the privatization of the state by the state did not create a new elite in the ashes of the old. Nor did it necessarily create a group that stood out as both a political and economic player. Rather, she argues, the Russian elite bifurcated along political and economic lines. The former held its status by virtue of its position in the state, while the latter through the control of capital. There was certainly overlap, but by the mid-1990s, the Russian elite was like a “three-layered pie”. The top layer consisted of politicians who vied for political power in the state. The middle layer housed business leaders, many of whom financed and lobbied politicians and controlled the media. The bottom layer was the private and state security services. The police not only acted as the state’s billy club, but also hired themselves out to enforce business contracts, settle disputes and even forcefully seize the property of their employer’s rivals.

    When did the oligarchs emerge, then? Interestingly, oligarch was popularised by Kryshtanovskaya herself in her influential January 1996 Izvestiia article, “The Financial Oligarchy in Russia”. In it she outlined her findings on the formation of the post-Soviet business elite from “wheelers and dealers” to a consolidated class. She concluded, however, that this consolidation had given rise to a new, smaller, more powerful coterie. A class within a class. “An oligarchy has formed in Russia under the conditions of industrial regression and the progression of financial institutions. The concentration of capital occurred with banks in the leading role. Therefore, the established oligarchy is primarily financial.”

    And the latest part brings us right back to one of our own oligarchs, Donald Trump, plus similar folks in the big buck real estate world.

  15. davidc1 says

    Over here in GB there have been calls for the mansions owned by Russians to be used to house Ukrainians.

  16. whheydt says

    Re: Marcus Ranum @ #3…
    Rather before that, Royal Marines on South Georgia used an anti-tank missile to blow a 5 foot hole, just above the waterline, in the hull of an Argentine frigate that sailed a little too close to the shore. Said frigate then made port on the island and didn’t leave during the entire dispute in the South Atlantic.

    The difference between a tank and a frigate being that a tank is actually armored.

  17. whheydt says

    The Congresscritter is barking up the wrong tree. It’s Congress that has the power to issue letters of marque and reprisal. Says so right there in the US Constitution. Why should Biden do his dirty work for him?

    As already noted, authorizing privateers (which is what a letter of marque does) is now illegal in internaltion law of the sea.

    The distinction (in many cases) between a pirate and a privateer depends on who you’re talking to.

    I say all this as the descendant of someone who did sail as an officer on a privateer during the American Revolution. He later commanded an 18-gun Brig’o’War (the Notre Dame) as part of the South Carolina Navy. Since his ship was engaged in capture, recapture, and sinking of British vessels, there wasn’t a huge difference between what he did in both those cases. What was different was that, as a Naval captain, when he was a PoW, he survived. Had he been caught as a privateer, he would probably be have been hanged as a pirate. What a difference a little paperwork makes.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Atlas Shrugged had a character called Ragnar the pirate, so the far-righters ought to be on board with privateers going after the allies of Putin… oh, I forgot, they think Putin is great.

  19. says

    I’ll just leave this here:

    On the subject of the egregiously wealthy and expensive waste that hurts the environment, a freight ship sunk this week. Its only cargo was sports cars and luxury cars. You can be sure the rich jerks will be demanding (and getting) insurance payouts on those cars. Screw ’em. If they can afford the cars, they can afford to eat the loss.

    Burned ship carrying luxury cars has now sunk

    The Felicity Ace, the cargo ship carrying cars and SUVs from brands including Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini, has now sunk. It had caught fire February 16th and its crew abandoned the ship.

    The largely burned out ship was being towed back to a safe port when it sank yesterday, according to a report provided by the salvage team to MOL Ship Management of Singapore, which operates the Panama-flagged ship. A spokesperson for Volkswagen Group confirmed that the automaker is aware of the vessel sinking.

    The Felicity Ace had been carrying nearly 4,000 vehicles from various Volkswagen Group brands. A number of the vehicles were fully electric, including models from Volkswagen and Audi, something that could have made the fire more difficult to control. Fires involving lithium ion batteries are particularly difficult to extinguish.

  20. says

    Rather before that, Royal Marines on South Georgia used an anti-tank missile to blow a 5 foot hole, just above the waterline, in the hull of an Argentine frigate that sailed a little too close to the shore.

    George MacDonald Fraser has a rather funny story in Quartered Safe Out Here in which he engages a Japanese river-boat with a PIAT. He claimed that he is the only person he ever heard of who was stupid enough to pull off a trick like that.

  21. whheydt says

    In one article I read, a recently seized “superyacht” was described as being 156 meters long. That’s longer than a WW2 Liberty ship (and–probably–rather less useful).

  22. PaulBC says

    I agree that “oligarch” is a term for them. Would “mobster” be a better one? The “-arch” suggests they should rule over something, but what is it other than a “business” with some very shady money trails?

    Is Donald Trump an “American oligarch”? OK, tricky, because he lived in the White House for a while, so let’s talk about Trump pre-2016. He certainly wasn’t an “entrepreneur” or “magnate” at least by the usual criteria. He intentionally avoided the due diligence normally accorded to corporations, cheated on taxes, and hid or inflated his wealth as the need required. People did erroneously refer to him as a capitalist, though he was just a cheat.

    In any case, I think the same term should apply to Trump and his Russian counterparts: mobster, gangster, criminal. This is where I’d start.

    Some pundit probably settled on “oligarch” because they thought it sounded erudite, the way somebody decided to refer to high-level advisors as “czar” (e.g. “drug czar”) or the way kabuki caught on even though it is not an appropriate metaphor at all.

  23. PaulBC says

    me@29 should say: I agree that “oligarch” is a poor term for them.

    I actually preview and proofread these, believe it or not. Sigh.

  24. jrkrideau says

    @ 6 wzrd1
    While we’re not signatories
    That’s okay, you are not signatories for the International Court of Justice or the Law of the Sea or the Convention on the Rights of the Child or ….
    Can one still hang pirates?

    @7 Snarki, child of Loki
    Just lock up all the London houses owned by anyone named “Boris” to start with.

  25. jrkrideau says

    This sounds like it has the potential to be another, spectacular own goal. Weakening the oligarchs simply may increase Putin’s power.

    He inherited them and likely has no great love for mast of them but probably does not want to spend political capital getting rid of any as long as they stay out of politics. Mikhail Khodorkovsky of Yukos Oil is a good lesson on what happen if one of them does not.

  26. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Thanks whheydt in 23 for saying what I was about to. I would have added more emphasis that it’s truly an awful idea in the modern world.

  27. davidc1 says

    @26 Used at anything other than horizontal, I read that the round was liable to fall out of the front of a PIAT.
    But like everything else I have read that is just another myth.

  28. whheydt says

    Re: GerardofTitanServer @ #34…
    One way to look at privateers in the modern world would be to consider how the major Naval powers would react if, say, Somali issued Letters of Marque to their folks that have been capturing passing commercial vessels.

    As I noted, in the relevant period, the practical differences between a “privateer” and an “pirate” depends on which side you’re one, and the distinction between either of those and a Man’O’War is the government that commissions the ship and the officers. Note that one of the great attractions to Naval service, at least into the 19th century, was the payment of prize money. (And, FYI, the ancestor I mentioned apparently did quite well in that regard, except for one fly in the ointment. He was paid in the fiat Continental currency, which was worthless after the war ended.)

  29. blf says

    I was in La Ciotat after learning about the seizure of the Amore Vero, and thought I recognised the quay it was docked at (in the photo published by the French authorities), which happens to be the publicly-accessible quay with three(?) spots capable of accommodating superyachts. So I walked that entire quay, nope, wasn’t there… either it’s at another quay (presumably inside the shipyard (as shown by other images of uncertain date)) or has been moved (albeit various vessel trackers claim it is still in La Ciotat).

    What was more interesting is there were no superyachts at that publicly-accessible quay. From memory, that’s a bit unusual, but certainly not unheard-of. It was a bit amusing, where the superyachts usually dock at that quay, there was only the Harbour Master’s zodiac (rigid inflatable), looking a bit forlorn. (Their office is on that quay, so seeing their boat there isn’t surprising.)

    No, I didn’t have any rotten eggs, pirates, or whatevers to throw, it was just a pleasant day, and having finished my business elsewhere, decided to amble over to that quay.

  30. blf says

    Follow-up to me@38, teh superyacht Amore Vero is still in La Ciotat (as am I), I spotted it at a quay in the shipyard, corresponding exactly to the images France seizes superyacht linked to Russia’s Sechin as oligarch assets get targeted, Guerre en Ukraine : cinq bateaux appartenant à des sociétés ou à des oligarques russes immobilisés en France, and others.

    I also overheard half of a conversation (in English), where the gentleman I could hear seemed to claim the French authorities were tipped-off by a “whistleblower” teh superyacht was about to do a runner (seems plausible, albeit I cannot confirm), and that the seizure has messed-up the shipyard’s schedule (also seems plausible, but again I cannot confirm).

    Sadly, I didn’t see any gunboats, very large hand-ship-cuffs, or (what I really wanted to see) rubber ducks with policeman’s helmets holding teh superyacht at bay…

  31. dorght says

    @18 Cristian
    Seems perfectly logical that nobody should pay rent on a property owned by a russian without fear of eviction. Many Floridians, Londoners, etc would be thrilled. Except there is no way the managers of the network of shell corporations between the renter and the oligarch are going to accept that. Sure they would keep the rent payments for themselves claiming sanctions, but no way the proletariat would be allowed to benefit.
    (Weird how class distinctions seem to pop up in posts more and more often.)

  32. dorght says

    With all this time to plan I’m really hoping for an epic and spectacular egg show from the Dutch.
    Years ago I watched some of MTV’s Sweet 16 show, and was truly disgusted. Until I thought about the numerous people that got paid making and presenting all those ostentatious displays of wealth. Seemed like an excellent method of redistributing wealth. Much better use of money than gambling on stock and real estate prices.

  33. says

    Our hero: a Ukrainian ship engineer valiantly attempted to sink oligarch’s yacht before being arrested in Majorca.

    While out of jail awaiting trial, he left for home to join the resistance.

  34. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    One nit. If someone asked me to point to the part of the constitution that granted the power to congress to hire mercenaries, I would probably point to the bit about letters of marque and reprisal.

  35. whheydt says

    Re: GerrardoftheTitanServer @ #44…
    A Letter of Marque doesn’t mean that Congress is financing the privateer. Just licensing them to operate. So I don’t think that can be used to claim that Congress has the power to hire mercenaries.

    That said, mercenary companies have a pretty long history of looting (or threatening to loot) if they don’t get paid…and (no doubt) sometimes when they do.

  36. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    Of course. It requires stretching. But again, if someone asked me to point to a section, it would be the section about raising an army and the section on letters of marque. If you squint just right and combine bits of the two, you get mercenaries. AFAIK, too much of the modern USA military are contractors and not uniformed military.

  37. PaulBC says

    It wasn’t until just now that I realized how much discussions of “what is constitutional” can sound like D&D players accusing each other of rule abuse.

  38. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    We D&D players call it “rules-lawyering” for a reason! :)