World’s richest celebrate end of summer at €4bn Monaco yacht show

Number of billionaires interested in superyachts said to have grown despite Russia sanctions and global economic crisis

“Change the TV channels now,” the captain of a $95m (£85m) Albatross superyacht calls out to a deckhand. “That guy has probably lost two mil in the last two minutes and we’re trying to convince him to drop 95.”

“That guy” is a prospective buyer of the 72-metre long vessel floating in Monaco’s Port Hercules where the world’s richest people (and their entourages) have gathered this week for the annual yacht show. With more than €4bn (£3.5bn) worth of marine luxury on display, it is as brokerage firm Burgess puts it: “The chicest way for billionaires to celebrate the end of summer”.

The TVs on Albatross – there are more than a dozen onboard – are beaming out live coverage of another day of economic chaos on business channel CNBC as the US market open down 2%.

That brief glimpse, before the screens are hurriedly switched off, is the only sign in this millionaires’ playground of the economic trouble affecting the outside world. The sanctions against Russian oligarchs, whose conspicuous consumption has kept European shipyards so busy in recent years, have not spoiled the party. Veuve Clicquot champagne or Whispering Angel rosé is available at some stands for free for anyone with a ticket to the show (tickets if you were to buy them cost €500 a pop).

“Of course the industry is impacted [by the global economic crisis], says Francesca Webster, the editor-in-chief of the trade industry publication SuperYacht Times. “But the number of billionaires has grown over the last two years meaning that there has been a rebalance despite the loss of the Russian clientele. Some shipyards are suggesting that the number of serious future clients – aka billionaires – has grown from around 25 to 30, almost all of which are American or Asian.”

Albatross is huge. The principal suite spans the whole 13-metre beam (width) of the yacht and includes a dressing room and two large bathrooms (one with a floral design in silver mosaics, and the other depicting golden clouds). There are five further large bedroom suite cabins, several large salons, a fully equipped gym, an eight-person jacuzzi, and a “touch-and-go” helipad all connected by a glass elevator.

The broker won’t confirm who is selling Albatross, although the six-year-old yacht has previously been reported as belonging to Majid Al Futtaim, an Emirati shopping malls and hotels billionaire who died last December.

It is far from the biggest vessel on show. That title goes to Ahpo, which is 115.1 metres long and moored on the other side of the port. Unfortunately, the Guardian is not welcomed onboard that yacht as “you don’t look like likely charterers”.

It’s a fair cop. Ahpo, which has eight bedroom suites as well as a gym, swimming pool, spa, sauna – and hammam, beauty room, piano bar and dancefloor, costs a minimum of €2.5m a week to charter.

That’s before “expenses”, which include fuel, food, drinks, and docking and mooring fees that can easily run into tens of thousands a night for yachts as large as Ahpo in billionaires’ favourite spots, such as Portofino, the Amalfi coast and Cagliari in Sardinia.

The crew also expect tips in the region of €1,500-2,500 a week each, according to several captains who spoke on condition of anonymity. There are 36 crew members on Ahpo.

Despite the costs, a broker at Moran, which arranges charters, says the yacht was rented for six weeks this summer and is “fast booking up for next year”.

Tristan Hooper, the captain of Luna B, a 66-metre yacht available for charter at a more reasonable €500,000 a week, says the vessel was rented for 12 weeks last year and by a wide range of people. “We’ve had all sorts of guests, from A-listers to Middle Eastern royalty,” he says onboard the $60m craft. “We thrive with tall people, because we have a high ceiling height.” (Yes, NBA basketball players have chartered the vessel, but he refuses to name names).

Asked about tips, Hooper says a €2,000 tip is “pretty standard”. “You hear stories of way more than that,” he says. “But on other charters you can be working really hard all week and walk away with nothing.”

The billionaire Jamaican-Canadian investor Michael Lee Chin upgraded to the Ahpo – the phonetic pronunciation of the Chinese pictogram meaning Grand Lady – after selling his $130m Quattroelle to the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum.

Both were built by Germany’s Lürssen Yachts, which also created Dilbar, the world’s largest superyacht by volume. It is one of more than a dozen superyachts seized from oligarchs subjected to sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dilbar, which cost a reported $600m and is allegedly owned by the family of the sanctioned metals magnate Alisher Usmanov, was seized by authorities in Hamburg in April.

Germany said it had detained the yacht, apparently named after Usmanov’s mother, because it was ultimately owned by his sister, Gulbakhor Ismailova. Usmanov has denied this.

This week, German police investigating money-laundering accusations searched the yacht. Prosecutors, who did not name Usmanov, said they were investigating money laundering and tax evasion allegations concerning a 69-year-old Russian business man. A spokesperson for Usmanov, who is 69, said the police and prosecutor investigations were “examples of blatant lawlessness under the guise of the sanctions law”.

The boat builders and brokers in Monaco are reluctant to talk about the impact of Russian sanctions on the superyacht industry despite oligarchs making up a fairly large chunk of the market, particularly at the priciest end.

The former Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich has bought seven, and still owns three including the 162.5-metre Eclipse, which was the world’s largest when he bought it in 1998. He has avoided having his yachts seized by taking them to Turkey, while other sanctioned oligarchs have sheltered their boats in Dubai.

It’s all too much for Pauline, one of thousands of people hired to work at the show as stewards, security guards or to pilot small rigid inflatable boats to transport people around the harbour.

“I work at a lot of events, but this is the only one that drives me crazy, it is just so wrong,” Pauline, 27, says as she helps guest to board one of the RIBs. “It’s wrong to be spending all this money on these things, and it’s just terrible for the planet – think how much pollution they make. These are really big buildings on the water. Sometimes I just want to do something to stop it all.”

• This article was amended on 30 September 2022 to clarify text regarding the ownership of the yacht Albatross, including to state that Majid Al Futtaim died last year.


Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent in Monaco

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