Mystery solved! Russian billionaire’s yacht can’t dock because it is illegal

Mystery solved! Russian billionaire’s yacht can’t dock because it is illegal
Tender vittles: Billionaire Eugene Shvidler’s yacht Le Grand Blue, anchored in Gravesend Bay for more than a month, is serviced by a tender on Tuesday. The Manhattan skyline is in the background.
Community News Group / Vince DiMiceli

A yacht owned by a Russian oligarch that has floated in Gravesend Bay for more than a month — and drifted there throughout President Trump’s first visit to the city since taking office — is sitting idle because it is illegal for the vessel to dock.

The massive German-made ship Le Grand Bleu is owned by Russian-born billionaire and oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler — who became a U.S. citizen in 1994 — flies Bermuda’s flag. And because the vessel is not a U.S.-flagged ship, was not constructed in the U.S., and is not crewed exclusively by U.S. citizens, federal law prohibits the boat from directly sailing from one American port to the next.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, regulates maritime commerce on domestic waters and solely allows U.S. ships to sail from one local port to the next with ease. Originally intended to promote U.S. shipping, it is a law that has since rocked the boat for those who man foreign flagged ships to avoid steep U.S. taxes or sidestep regulations, according to maritime lawyer Jim Walker.

Shvidler’s ship set sail from Florida on April 13 and cast anchor in Gravesend Bay on April 16, where it has and will remain for as long as he’s in town, unless he wants to incur a hefty fine for docking in New York Harbor or run the risk of the government towing away his football field-length vessel.

Penalties for pulling up to a pier in violation of the Jones Act vary with the value of the merchandise the boat is carrying or of the cost of transportation — whichever tallies up to a higher sum — but can easily soar into the millions. In fact, in April the Department of Justice slapped an Alsakan company a whopping $10 million fine for using a Chinese ship to transport gear from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska — the fee is the largest in history of the Jones Act.

Size matters: The yacht is much bigger than other pleasure boats in the harbor.
Community News Group / Vince DiMiceli

It is possible to get a waiver, but only in extreme circumstances where it is considered necessary in the interest of national defense. For the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, for instance, waivers were granted for foreign-flag oil skimming barges to help clean the mess until U.S. vessels could replace the ships.

But Shivdler can — and probably has — take his speedboat out for a spin and set foot in the city for a tamer $300 fee.

Le Grand Bleu was given to Shivdler in 2006 by his business partner and fellow billionaire Roman Abramovich who is pal to Russian President Valdamir Putin. The vessel comes complete with a 65-person crew, helicopter, aquarium, and speedboat.

It’s unclear how long Shivdler plans to anchor in the bay and what business has brought him to New York, and we could not reach him for comment or even to get a free tour of the yacht.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Sitting pretty: Le Grand Bleu features its own sailboat and helicopter.
Community News Group / Vince DiMiceli

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