It’s a 230-foot superyacht with room for 28 guests and crew—and yet, in the last week, it has seemingly vanished, just as other vessels belonging to Russian billionaires have been frozen or seized.
The Galactica Super Nova, owned by Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov, sailed in recent weeks from Barcelona to Tivat, Montenegro, arriving on March 1. But just a day later, the boat departed, according to data from the ship-tracking company MarineTraffic.
An official at the port in Montenegro confirmed that the yacht was no longer there.
Soon after it left, Galactica’s automatic tracking system, also known as AIS, stopped pinging out signals, reports MarineTraffic and its competitors VesselFinder and VesselsValue. As of Wednesday afternoon Central European Time, the boat had yet to update its location.
It is legally required for all yachts of Galactica’s size to have their AIS turned on “at all times,” said Sam Tucker, head of superyachts at VesselsValue. “For the past 12 months, we have had a very reliable signal coming from this vessel, so after seeing it [leave] Porto Montenegro, we are very surprised that there has been no signal received from either our satellites or ground stations.”
Duncan Bateson, a marine lawyer based in London, said it was likely that “if captains of Russian-linked boats are turning off their AIS tracker, then it's because they're trying to evade being tracked.”
Lukoil did not respond to requests for comment.
The timing of the disappearance has certainly raised eyebrows. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a number of megayachts linked to oligarchs have been frozen or seized by international authorities, including one tied to Putin confidant Igor Sechin, and the Lady M and Lena yachts, which were docked in the Italian Riviera.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Bateson said of the crackdown.
Some Russian megayachts have quickly relocated to the Indian Ocean, ostensibly to avoid being nabbed.
According to Tucker, Russian nationals own about 10 percent of all yachts longer than 79 feet, and the financial ramifications of the sanctions are not yet clear. Entire industries, from insurance firms to boat outfitters to fuel suppliers, rely on the vessels for business.
The yacht issue notwithstanding, Alekperov’s financial position is already shaky. His net worth has plummeted $17.6 billion so far this year, to $5.2 billion, according to Bloomberg estimates.
Much of his wealth is tied to Lukoil, the energy firm that he helped start as a state-owned enterprise in 1991. He served as the Soviet Union’s first deputy minister of the oil and gas Industry.
Neither Alekperov nor Lukoil have been sanctioned so far this year by Western governments, though the United States has banned Russian oil imports and some consumers have begun boycotting Lukoil gas stations (a move that could hurt American franchisees). The U.S. did place Lukoil on a sanctions list in 2014, citing “continued Russian efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine.”
Alekperov, 71, reportedly convened with other top Russian business people to meet with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last month.
Perhaps in an effort to distance itself from the current invasion, Lukoil published a statement on March 3 calling for the “soonest termination of the armed conflict” and pushing for a “ceasefire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy.” It stopped short of labeling the conflict a “war” or an “invasion,” however—no surprise given the Russian government’s highly restrictive new censorship laws, which went into effect around the same time.
As the violence in Ukraine persists, so too does the mystery of Alekperov’s boat. Experts say there are some instances when a captain might turn off a yacht’s tracking device, such as when steering through pirate-infested waters, though that wouldn’t currently apply to Galactica.
Tucker noted that “rare events” like atmospheric disruptions, system failures, lightning strikes, or cyber attacks, could also theoretically cause the AIS to stop working.
Wherever the vessel is, Alekperov is apparently willing to part with it for the right price. The yacht—which features a removable film screen, glass elevator, and 20-foot infinity pool with a waterfall feature—is listed for sale for 75 million euros, or $83 million. According to VesselsValue estimates, its actual value is closer to $69 million.
The boat will be hard to offload whenever it does turn up. Said Tucker: “Everyone is now so scared of touching any money that’s associated with Russia.”