Ukraine war’s collateral damage swamps Dutch superyacht sector

By Robert Wielaard

The Dutch government is preventing 14 superyachts, believed to be owned by Russians, from leaving the country. Twelve are under construction, and two are undergoing maintenance, says the government in a letter to parliament.

Government inspectors, the letter says, target 15 shipyards. So far, no yachts under construction have been traced to Russians on the EU’s Russia sanctions list. But the yachts will be subject to an EU export ban on luxury goods for members of the Russian elites.

The action by Dutch authorities is part of the spreading collateral damage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, a sector that for several years enjoyed robust growth, largely driven by orders from ultra-rich oligarchs, is front-page news everywhere.

The Dutch make huge, highly customized yachts for Russian and non-Russian clients alike. They do so based on non-disclosure accords for privacy reasons, a practice that now backfires badly.

The media attention Dutch superyacht builders are drawing compounds a long-standing image issue. Hollywood has a knack for using superyachts as a backdrop to tales from dens of iniquity full of shady people with much to hide.

Ironically, the Ukraine war has improved due diligence options for superyacht builders in the Netherlands and beyond:

  • After Russia invaded the Crimea peninsula in 2014, the EU issued a sanctions list of 33 no-good Russians. Today, that list covers almost 900 Russians.
  • The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has a trove of leaked financial data on Russian oligarchs, billionaires, and political power players, including Putin’s inner circle members. The ICIJ’s leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposes crime, corruption and wrongdoing hidden by secretive offshore companies.