UK seizes first Russian yacht as more sanctions on oligarchs take hold

The yacht - owned by a Russian businessman - was seized at Canary Wharf in east London by National Crime Agency officers. Credit: National Crime Agency

The UK has seized its first Russian super yacht as part of sanctions against Russia, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

UK officials boarded Phi - owned by a Russian businessman - in Canary Wharf, east London on Tuesday. The vessel is the first to be detained in the UK under sanctions imposed because of the war in Ukraine.

Mr Shapps said: "Today we've detained a £38 million superyacht and turned an icon of Russia's power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to Putin and his cronies.

"Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from connections to Putin's regime."

Phi - named after the mathematical concept - made her maiden voyage last year after being built in the Netherlands. She is 58.5 metres long and features what is described as an "infinite wine cellar" and a freshwater swimming pool.

The vessel was in London for a superyacht awards ceremony and was due to depart at noon on Tuesday.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it worked with the National Crime Agency and the Border Force Maritime Investigation Bureau to identify and detain the vessel.

It refused to reveal the name of her owner, stating that he is "a Russian businessman", describing Phi's ownership as "deliberately well hidden".

Phi is a large yacht with an "infinite wine cellar" and a freshwater swimming pool. Credit: National Crime Agency

The DfT said it is "looking at a number of other vessels" and hopes its "strong stance sends an example to international partners".

The UK has already sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and entities since Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Ukraine, which has since seen thousands killed.

The measures are designed to starve the Russian leader of finances to fund his war machine in a bid to slow the invasion, which is said to have repeatedly stalled due to numerous setbacks.

All those sanctions are subject to a travel ban, meaning they cannot enter or leave Britain, and will have their UK assets frozen.

More general sanctions already imposed against Russia have banned all Russian ships from using UK ports and any Russian aircraft from using British airspace.

National Crime Agency officers boarded the vessel on Tuesday, Credit: National Crime Agency

The yacht on Tuesday is thought to be the first seized by the UK under its Russian sanctions regime, with critics accusing the government of being behind the EU in holding assets.

French authorities seized a Russian super yacht owned by Igor Sechin, boss of Russian state energy company Rosneft, at the start of March and days later Italy seized a super yacht belonging to Russian oligarch Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko.

The UK had been under pressure for some time to seize the £460 million yacht owned by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, however, it has been photographed docking in Turkey, where the oligarch is as he negotiates with Ukraine on behalf of Russia as both sides attempt to find agreement to end the war.

Nato leaders agreed last week at an emergency meeting to toughen Western sanctions against Russia.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told MPs on Monday that sanctions are "pushing back the Russian economy by years and we owe it to the brave Ukrainians to keep up our tough approach to get peace".

In the Commons, she said: "Through tougher sanctions to debilitate the Russian economy, supplying weapons to Ukraine and boosting Nato's eastern flank, providing humanitarian aid and dealing with the wider consequences of this crisis and supporting Ukraine in any negotiations they undertake.

"Strength is the only thing Putin understands. Our sanctions are pushing back the Russian economy by years and we owe it to the brave Ukrainians to keep up our tough approach to get peace.

"We owe it ourselves to stand with them for the cause of freedom and democracy in Europe and across the world. It is vital we step up this pressure, we cannot wait for more appalling atrocities to be committed in Ukraine."