Russian crew members on a mysterious $700-million luxury yacht that U.S. officials say could be owned by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia abruptly left their jobs and the Tuscan coastal town where it is undergoing repairs a couple of weeks ago amid scrutiny of the vessel, local union leaders and workers say.
The crew members had been fixtures in the small port of Marina di Carrara since the fall of 2020, when the 459-foot-long yacht, Scheherazade, arrived at a dry dock less than four months after being built. No owner has been publicly identified.
“They were replaced by a British crew,” said Paolo Gozzani, the local leader of Italy’s General Confederation of Labor trade union, on Wednesday. “I don’t know and don’t care whether the yacht is indeed Putin’s or not, but I worry about the repercussions on shipyard workers if police impound or confiscate the vessel.”
Workers at the shipyard and regular visitors to its private lounge confirmed that the Russians had routinely supervised the work done on the yacht and had drinks at the bar or played pool there in the evenings. The yacht, estimated by the website SuperYachtFan to cost about $700 million, has two helicopter decks, a swimming pool with a retractable cover that converts to a dance floor and a gym.
This week, the research team of Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, published a video in which it argued, based on a 2020 crew manifest, that a dozen of the Russian crew members of the Scheherazade either worked for or had a connection with Russia’s Federal Protective Service. The team drew the conclusion that the yacht must belong to Mr. Putin or some of his closest aides.
The Scheherazade’s real ownership is hidden by various shell companies. American officials said this month they had found initial indications that it was linked to Mr. Putin but would not describe what information they had.
In an interview with The New York Times this month, the yacht’s captain, Guy Bennett-Pearce, declined to disclose the name of the owner, but denied that Mr. Putin owned or had ever been on the yacht. Mr. Bennett-Pearce said Thursday he wouldn’t comment further until an investigation by Italian authorities was finished.
Italy’s financial police have been looking into Scheherazade’s ownership for weeks. Italian investigators wouldn’t comment on Thursday, saying that the investigation was continuing.
In a speech to Italy’s Parliament this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Italy to prevent Russians from vacationing in the country, as well as to freeze their assets, bank accounts and yachts, “from the Scheherazade to the smallest ones.”
Italian authorities have frozen over 800 million euros in assets from Russian oligarchs on the European sanctions list, including villas in Sardinia, Tuscany, Liguria and the Lake Como area, and three yachts.