The sanctioned oligarch Leonid Michelson is attached to his super yacht “Pacific”. So much so that he spared no expense or effort in keeping her safe once the Russian invasion began. How this was achieved is reported for the first time by former crew members.
There are few industries as secretive as yachting. No wonder: the best customers in this world are Russian oligarchs and Arab billionaires who value privacy. At the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many ship owners found themselves involuntarily in the limelight – as a result of the many sanctions from the western world, the yachts became a popular target for raids and confiscations – some even for sale by authorities. The same fate quickly befell other assets, such as opulent villas in popular coastal towns or bulging accounts at local banks.
For many oligarchs, even before the Russian attack actually began, it was a top priority to get the valuable sheep dry. While this was hardly successful with houses, unusual maneuvers could be observed, especially with yachts worth millions. For example, Vladimir Putin’s yacht “Graceful” left the port of Hamburg for Kaliningrad during repair work at the beginning of February last year without having achieved anything and the fleet of Roman Abramovich, who is said to own 16 ships, instructed his captains to visit Turkish waters.
Witnesses tell of life on board a fleeing yacht
While it was sometimes possible to follow the hasty changes of location to the minute on portals such as “Marinetraffic”, it remained unclear for a long time what was really going on on board the yachts. Til today. Because the YouTuber and expert “esysman” managed to locate witnesses to what happened on board the “Pacific” (IMO: 9569293).
The “Pacific” is an 85 meter long super yacht and is owned by the Russian oligarch Leonid Michelson. Michelson was sanctioned by a number of nations early in the war, including Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. For the crew on board the ship, this obviously meant unexpected twists and turns – and in some cases the end of their careers on board.
A witness told “esysman” that the “Pacific” had already traveled from Europe to Costa Rica in December 2021. The first stopover was made in the Bahamas before continuing through the Panama Canal to the actual destination. Once there, the Michelsons’ family boarded the day before the invasion began – with the exception of the oligarch. The wife and children initially stayed for two months.
Things got moving when Michelson was included on the sanctions lists. According to insiders, the ship immediately lost yacht management, which meant that services such as salary payments and insurance suddenly stopped. It is said that nothing was left of the ship except for the flag of the Cayman Islands – theoretically it was decommissioned. “All contracts were void, there was no way to pay the crew. We were left on the ship completely ignorant and had no idea what was going to happen next,” reports a person who, according to “esysman”, was on board the ship at the time “Pacific” was. “All British passport holders were immediately dismissed. There were 14 members,” it said.
Then it was said that the ship had to go to Turkish waters – in the meantime word had gotten around that Russian yachts were safe there. Abramovich also had his ships brought there immediately. For the crossing, the crew was promised support in the form of a transition team, the insider explains. That didn’t happen. But one person was flown in from Russia. This was a new boss for the employees on board the “Pacific”. Four days later, it was May 5, 2022, they were instructed to get the yacht ready to leave.
Suitcase containing $3 million in cash
A day later, the ship anchored in front of the entrance to the Panama Canal, waiting for night. But before that, a suitcase with money is said to have been brought on board. A second insider describes the situation as follows: “When we were in front of the canal, they brought on board a suitcase with three million US dollars in cash. The money was intended for crew salaries and payments for the crossing.”
When the journey continued, all tracking systems were switched off for the first time (this is how the billionaires bring their luxury yachts to safety). Then they drove through the canal at around three in the morning. Before that, a new captain was brought on board who, according to the insider, had connections to the Panamanian government and was able to guarantee the crossing.
The “Pacific” reached the Atlantic at about eight o’clock. Stocks were stocked up before the long crossing. The ship then made the journey from Fort Sherman to Marmaris, around 6,000 miles away. On the way, the yacht would have constantly sent wrong destinations, while the real destination was on the Turkish coast.
The exact position was given by the ship west of Tenerife for the first time after 12 days of crossing. The ship had previously refueled in Cape Verde and replenished supplies. The “Pacific” had given Barcelona as its destination, but sailed well past it and finally reached Marmaris.
Once there, they were again able to hire a shipping agency. They organized the berth and took care of everything that a yacht and crew needed in the port. It is said that Michelson kept trying to pay his crew. But since he wanted to do this from his Swiss private account, almost every bank rejected the booking. The sanctions prohibited accepting funds from the oligarch. And so only a few employees got their salary. Others have been placed under surveillance for suspicious activity.
Russian captain took over “Pacific”, most resigned
While the “Pacific” was in Turkey, five employees of a company called “Imperial Yachts” came on board. It was a yacht agency based in Monaco, which has since also been sanctioned. The only thing left on the website is a statement that they want to defend themselves against the allegations.
The video from “esysman” says that the Russian person who boarded the ship in Costa Rica turned out to be an employee of “Imperial Yachts”. Arrived in Turkey, the Australian captain was dismissed and the Russian person appointed as the new skipper.
The crew member describes this time as extremely complicated. You didn’t know who had taken over the management and whether your own jobs were also on the brink. There was no guarantee of getting paid, and on some, Michelson was already three to four months behind. The new Russian captain made no secret of it. He told the crew the jobs were indeed unsafe and it was a good idea to look for alternatives. As a result, many followed the advice and left the deck of the “Pacific”.
The insider describes that “Imperial Yachts” has never identified itself, although as an industry insider you know who you are dealing with. He cites the United States’ sanctions, which basically render the company unable to act, as the reason. “They introduced themselves as ‘Phoenix Yachts’ and continued to do business under that name,” explains one of the witnesses.
The ship most recently left Turkish waters in December 2022 and headed for Abu Dhabi. The Emirates are considered the second safe haven for Russian yachts, and Andrei Melnichenko’s “MY A” was also last seen there (“Motoryacht A” in safety). The “Pacific” only appears on relevant portals as “533132394” and now sails under the Malaysian flag. The ship last sent the location on December 25, 2022.