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Russian superyacht Nord may have given Cape Town a wide berth

Russian superyacht Nord may have given Cape Town a wide berth
The Nord superyacht in Hong Kong, China, on 14 October 2022. (Photo: Lam Yik / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Whether the $500m, 142m, ultraluxury Nord will still head to Cape Town after the Maldives, an archipelagic state in the Indian Ocean just south of India, is not clear.

The superyacht Nord, belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oligarch friend, Alexei Mordashov, which was expected to dock in Cape Town on Wednesday, is now believed to be in the Maldives. 

Whether the $500-million, 142m, ultraluxury Nord will still head to Cape Town after the Maldives, an archipelagic state in the Indian Ocean just south of India, is not clear.

But in any case, it seems unlikely to dock in Cape Town in the next few days. Ayanda Mantshongo, a spokesperson for the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), told Daily Maverick that any vessel docking in a South African port had to apply for permission at least 72 hours in advance.

“[The] TNPA has still not received a notification for yacht Nord to call at the Port of Cape Town,” she said on Thursday evening. Other Cape Town port officials said if the Nord did arrive in Cape Town, it would probably dock in the Waterfront East Pier, the cruise ship terminal, or in the commercial port. 

“If I were them, I would tuck it away at the back of the commercial port,” one official said, though agreeing that there was no way the massive and very distinctive vessel could be hidden. 

The website luxuryyachts.com reported that in April, Nord, with a British crew, had “fled from Seychelles to Vladivostok, a port on the east coast of Russia”. 

“At one point, the vessel’s destination was set for Busan in South Korea. However, it must have been a tactic to confuse the authorities trying to capture the vessel. Currently, the vessel is said to be flying a Russian flag on the stern and things like the call sign and unique MMSI number have also been changed,” it said. 

Marine tracking sites reported last month that the Nord had sailed from Vladivostok to Hong Kong, which it left on 20 October, setting its destination as Cape Town, where it was due to arrive on 9 November.


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The Nord superyacht in Hong Kong, China, on 14 October 2022. (Photo: Lam Yik / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Perhaps Cape Town was a feint, as the Nord was then tracked through the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra after which it turned west into the Indian Ocean. Soon after that, it turned off its transponder, preventing it from being followed further.

Then, earlier this month, some yachting news sites said it had been detected in the Addu Atoll of the Maldives. 

It has never been revealed why it might have been voyaging to Cape Town. Several Russian superyachts owned by oligarchs have been placed on Western sanctions lists because of Putin’s war against Ukraine. About a dozen of them have been confiscated and others seem to be moving to avoid confiscation.

But if the Nord was in Vladivostok, it doesn’t make sense for it to leave the safety of that port merely to avoid being seized. While steel billionaire Mordashov is on the US sanctions list, Nord is not, officials told Daily Maverick

Even so, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis wrote to International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor last month, urging her not to allow the Nord to dock in Cape Town.

He told her South Africa was bound by its Constitution to take a strong stance against Russia and had a “moral duty” not to support the businessman amid his home country’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. He added that the businessman had ties with the Russian government and was an accomplice to the invasion.

Hill-Lewis said South Africa’s position on the war — of non-alignment — was “shameful”, and preventing Nord from entering South Africa would save its image in the global community.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, responded by saying that Mordashov and Nord were not under United Nations sanctions, so South Africa would not block their entry.

With its distinctive jutting but squared-off prow, the Nord looks like a Russian warship and some call it a “mini aircraft carrier” or a “warship in a tuxedo”. It carries a large complement of executive “toys”, including a mini submarine, several smaller craft, helicopters and SUVs. DM

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