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A $49M Russian superyacht has been detained by U.K. officials near London

The newly-detained superyacht Phi is pictured while docked in Canary Wharf in east London on Tuesday.
James Manning - PA Images
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PA Images via Getty Images
The newly-detained superyacht Phi is pictured while docked in Canary Wharf in east London on Tuesday.

Officials in the United Kingdom say they've detained a Russian-owned superyacht docked near London, a first under new sanctions imposed over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The $49.67 million yacht, which is named Phi, belongs to an unnamed Russian businessman and was docked in the Canary Wharf financial district of London, according to the government.

"Today we've detained a 38 million pound superyacht and turned an icon of Russia's power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to Putin and his cronies," Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement reported by Reuters. "Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from Russian connections."

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this is the first time a Russian superyacht has been detained in U.K. waters, according to SkyNews — which added that the government later clarified that the unidentified owner of the vessel is not currently subject to U.K. sanctions.

Officials said the yacht's ownership is "deliberately well hidden." The company it's registered to is based in the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, but the ship itself carries Maltese flags, purportedly to hide its origins.

Reuters reports that Phi was in Canary Wharf for a superyacht awards ceremony and was planning to depart today.

But the yacht won't be leaving anytime soon, according to Shapps.

"When you see what he's doing to Ukraine, when you see what he's doing to people's lives, it can't be right to have a yacht like this here in London, able to just sail away and that is why we've impounded it, and denied it ability to go anywhere right now, and it's another indication of how seriously we take these matters," he said.

Phi measures more than 190 feet long. It was completed in 2021 by Dutch builder Royal Huisman, which said it was set to be the longest sub-500GT yacht in the world. Its amenities include a freshwater swimming pool that converts into a sealed tank and an "infinite wine cellar," according to Boat International.

It also boasts a laser-powered exterior lighting system, Auto Evolution reports, and is accompanied by what is called a shadow vessel — "where all the water toys and additional equipment can be carried, in order to free up even more space on the mothership." The 118-foot shadow vessel, Phi Phantom, can reportedly fit a "huge tender and a boat," personal watercraft, motorbikes, additional fuel and a car.

Officials said that they first flagged the yacht as being potentially Russian-owned on March 13 and that the Department for Transport, National Crime Agency and Border Force Maritime Investigation Bureau worked together to identify and detain it.

The transportation department said it's also looking at a number of other vessels and hopes that its "strong stance sends an example to international partners."


This story first appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.