Vladimir Putin’s Superyacht Graceful Has A New Name: “Killer Whale”

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Giacomo Tognini   Forbes U.S. Staff

Vladimir Putin’s Superyacht Graceful Has A New Name: “Killer Whale”

Vladimir Putin’s second-largest superyacht is on the move. More than seven months after hastily departing Germany for the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, the Russian president’s $119 million, 267-foot Graceful was spotted off the coast of Estonia—with a new name.

Photos seen by Forbes that were taken on September 25 by Carl Groll, a contributing photographer for TheYachtPhoto.com, reveal that Graceful has a new name: Kosatka, Russian for “killer whale.” Forbes, which was tipped off by TheYachtPhoto.com’s managing director and longtime yacht watcher Peter Seyfferth, compared photos of Graceful available on yacht industry websites with the photo of Kosatka that appear to confirm the match.

The yacht was traveling northbound in the Baltic sea to the west of the Estonian island of Saaremaa; the pictures show it being escorted by an armed Russian Coast Guard vessel, possibly en route to St. Petersburg. It’s unclear when Graceful changed its name to Kosatka or when it departed Kaliningrad, a Russian territory sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland: the yacht’s transponder has been turned off since at least August 30, according to ship tracking service MarineTraffic, when it was still in Kaliningrad. A spokesperson for the Russian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kosatka—then named Graceful—departed the German port of Hamburg on February 7, seventeen days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine. It left for Russia after a five-month refit at the shipyards of Blohm+Voss, the company that built the yacht in 2014. The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Graceful—along with three other yachts linked to Putin—on June 2.

Registered in Russia, Kosatka features an indoor swimming pool that turns into a theater and a dance floor, a helipad and suites for up to 12 guests. The ship also boasts pool towel storage cabinets that double as vodka bars and an owner's suite with a wine cave that can store up to 400 bottles; the yacht was delivered to "her closely-collaborating owner" in 2014, according to Lürssen, which owns Blohm+Voss. According to a BBC News investigation published in March, the yacht is currently owned by Moscow-based JSC Argument, which the U.S. Treasury sanctioned along with its sole shareholder, Andrei Gasilov, on June 2. The BBC investigation found that JSC Argument had in the past agreed to a loan from one of the management companies involved in the construction of "Putin's Palace,” an opulent, 190,000-square-foot estate near the resort town of Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast. JSC Argument did not respond to phone calls for comment from the BBC.

According to yacht valuation experts VesselsValue and reporting from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Graceful was previously owned by British Virgin Islands-based Olneil Assets Corp. The U.S. Treasury sanctioned a company in the Cayman Islands with a similar name—O’Neill Assets Corporation—on June 2, for "having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Vladimir Putin."

Besides Kosatka, Putin has been linked to at least five more yachts: the $507 million, 459-foot Scheherazade, which is technically owned by oil & gas billionaire Eduard Khudainatov but is believed to be held on behalf of Putin; the $22 million, 187-foot Olympia; the $18 million, 177-foot Chayka, which means “seagull” in Russian; the $17 million, 151-foot Shellest; and the 105-foot Nega. Olympia and Kosatka, then named Graceful, were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury on June 2 as “blocked property in which President Vladimir Putin has an interest” while Shellest and Nega were targeted as “two additional yachts linked to Putin.” Altogether, Putin’s fleet of yachts is worth at least $680 million, according to VesselsValue.

Except for Scheherazade, which was frozen by Italian authorities in the port of Marina di Carrara on May 6 and recently re-registered to Malaysia, and Olympia, which is registered in the Cayman Islands, the other yachts are all registered in Russia. All of the other yachts, except for Scheherazade, also appear to be in Russia now: Olympia was last tracked in Lake Ladoga, near St. Petersburg, on July 31, 2021; Chayka was last tracked in the Black Sea port of Sochi on March 29, 2021; Shellest was last tracked off the coast of Gelendzhik on September 13; and Nega was last tracked in Lake Ladoga on August 14.

The links between the six yachts and the leader of the Kremlin are complex. According to the U.S. Justice Department, Eduard Khudainatov—a former CEO of Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft and a longtime associate of Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s current boss and Putin’s right-hand man—acted as a “clean, unsanctioned straw owner” for Scheherazade, owning it through Marshall Islands-based Bielor Assets Ltd. A spokesperson for Khudainatov did not respond to a request for comment regarding Scheherazade when Forbes reached out in June.

Olympia is owned by Cayman Islands-based Ironstone Marine Investments, which was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury on June 2. According to the U.S. Treasury, Shellest and Nega are owned by the Russia-based Non-Profit Partnership Revival of Maritime Traditions and its subsidiary LLC Gelios; both entities were sanctioned on June 2. Putin’s ties to Chayka are clearer: the yacht is owned directly by the Russian government, according to VesselsValue.

An investigation by OCCRP published in June shed light on the murky relationship between Putin and his yachts. The firms that own Shellest and Nega are tied to "LLCInvest," a network of interconnected companies and nonprofits that holds a collective $4.5 billion in assets, including Putin's palatial complex on the Black Sea. The group is also linked to another yacht, the $9 million, 121-foot Aldoga, owned by a firm held by Svetlana Krivonogikh, rumored to be the mother of one of Putin's daughters. The investigation also revealed how Putin appears to use the yachts: Shellest makes frequent trips between Gelendzhik—the site of “Putin’s Palace”—and Sochi, while Nega travels between several homes owned by LLCInvest companies, including a villa known as the “Fisherman’s Hut” on Lake Ladoga and Villa Sellgren, a mansion on the shores of the Gulf of Finland. OCCRP reached out to more than 100 LLC Invest email addresses and made phone calls to five representatives of LLC Invest companies for comment; none of the emails received replies to the questions and four of the people called did not respond, while a fifth claimed he did not know who owned the companies.

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Giacomo Tognini   Forbes U.S. Staff

I cover billionaires and their wealth for Forbes. In the past, I've covered everything from oil & gas for Bloomberg News to the 2014 Indonesian presidential election for the Jakarta Globe. I'm a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and UC Berkeley, and my work has also appeared in the Houston Chronicle, the Calgary Herald, and more