Stop Bermuda flag flying on Putin cronies’ yachts
Today the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club is proudly flying the flag of Ukraine in its lovely main entrance. That’s the right place to put it to show Bermuda’s grassroots support for those suffering in Ukraine while Russia pursues its bloody, unprovoked assault on Ukrainians’ sovereign democracy.
Meanwhile, Bermuda’s beloved flag is flying from a very wrong place: from the masts of at least three — and possibly more — luxury superyachts owned by Russian oligarchs, cronies of dictator Vladimir Putin who get rich by propping up Putin’s authoritarian regime.
I want to highlight just two yachts flying the Bermuda flag: the yachts owned by Putin’s absurdly wealthy sycophant Roman Abramovich. These yachts are Eclipse and Solaris. Abramovich can afford the third and fifteenth-biggest pleasure yachts in the world because Putin’s predecessor gave Abramovich big chunks of Russia’s assets at sweetheart prices. For a decade now, Abramovich has been Putin’s loyal henchman during the Russian dictator’s three uncontested terms in office. Along with his two Bermudian-registered yachts and the rest of his $12 billion-plus net worth, Abramovich achieved every Russian or Chinese oligarch’s dream in 2003: owning an English football club. No less than Chelsea Football Club. What a life!
Bermuda’s quick and cost-effective ship registry — often called a “flag of convenience” — allows yacht owners such as Abramovich to fly a national flag as required by maritime law without actually being residents or nationals of Bermuda; thus avoiding the higher taxes and stricter regulations they would encounter elsewhere in the world. And Bermuda’s status as a member of the British-affiliated Red Ensign Group means Bermudian-registered yachts can dock pretty much anywhere in the world. That is useful if Abramovich or his buddies get the travel bug, or want to lie low for a while.
Abramovich is a top-20 Putin enabler. Eight days before the invasion, he conveniently pulled out his shares in a steel company that is a major supplier for Putin’s tanks. At this very moment, his dictator boss is using those tanks to literally break Bermudian law. Bermuda participates in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified in 1976. Page 1 of the covenant states that “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. Bermuda also ratified the Third Geneva Convention, which provides that civilians must not be targeted by soldiers: no indiscriminate bombing, no spreading terror in the civilian population, no attacks on critical infrastructure such as water and electricity, which are necessary for non-fighters to survive. Many in the international community think enablers such as Abramovich ought to be facing personal prosecution for supporting war criminals, instead of relaxing on their yachts.
On March 6, Russia was committing all of the above crimes. Russia has unilaterally decided that all Ukrainians have no right to self-determination. Russian forces have killed more than 350 innocent civilians, and more civilian deaths will surely follow. Putin’s forces have dropped indiscriminate cluster munitions and vacuum bombs in residential neighbourhoods; they have attacked schools and apartment buildings; the city of Kherson and its quarter-million inhabitants have no water and no electricity in below-freezing weather. On that Sunday, newspapers revealed that Russian forces intentionally shelled a bridge near Kyiv while civilians were fleeing — killing a mother and her two children.
The Ukrainian and the Bermudian flag are flying side-by-side at the Princess. But Bermuda’s flag flies alone on Solaris (at the time of writing lying at anchor in the port of Barcelona) and on Eclipse (at present cruising through international waters northeast of the British Virgin Islands). This ought to offend many Bermudians.
The Bermuda Shipping and Maritime Authority should cancel Abramovich’s yacht registrations immediately, plus any other registrations connected to Russian oligarch-owned yachts. And no ship owned by a Putin crony should ever be permitted to stain Bermuda’s blue waters.