Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.
Gov’t of Antigua and Barbuda

In normal circumstances, the Eastern Caribbean nation of Antigua would do its best to avoid being in the middle of cold war-like politics but the presence of a Russian-owned superyacht in one of its key marinas for the past year is doing just that, causing major disquiet in parliament and in the federation with Barbuda’s cabinet.

At center of issue is a spirited, if not hurried, effort by the Gaston Browne administration to dispose of the yacht through international tendering, but lawmakers are divided as to who will exactly own the proceeds of the 269-foot Alfa Nero vessel which has been sitting in the Falmouth Harbor ever since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine last year. It is reportedly owned by businessman Andrey Guryev.

Its owners sanctioned by the US and other western nations after the invasion, the vessel has been left tied up in the harbor but now there is some amount of panic in official circles as to what exactly to do with it as it is uninsured, poses a risk to other expensive assets in the bay and has a malfunctioning sewage system that has forced the five-man crew to simply dump waste into the sea.

The result is that authorities have rushed to parliament to tidy up legislation to allow for the legal sale of the vessel. PM Browne says sale proceeds should go to the consolidated fund and be used for national development. Opposition lawmakers say that the global geopolitical situation could change overnight and its previous owners and assigns could come calling, demanding money from the sale of the vessel. The best thing, they argue, would be to put the money in an escrow account until the political dust settles rather than have to pay it back if the government makes a wrong move.

Browne told parliament in the past week that there have been several international offers for the $81 million vessel, with the best being $50 million so far. The Observer newspaper says the luxury yacht carries an on-board hair salon and high-end spa as well as a 12-metre infinity pool that can be converted to a helipad or dance floor.

Browne says he fears a fire or any other mishap in the marina could damage this aspect of federation tourism so he wants this entire nightmare to end quickly as reputational damage could accrue.

“Anything could go wrong. Maybe some of the doors could open and start to take on water and it sinks. There could be a fire. In fact, I am told the insurance of the marina could be affected because we have an uninsured vessel sitting in the marina and is a risk to other boats. We are talking about billions of dollars of assets in that harbor. And you can imagine if that vessel was to catch fire what will happen,” he told the house. He says the island draws water from the same area for the desalination plant where sewage is being dumped into the river because the onboard system is not working “so this issue is a significant threat.”

As an indication of the level of disquiet and difference in approaches to this issue, Senate Minority Leader Shawn Nicholas fears a rush to dispose of the Alfa Nero could backfire on a small developing nation such as Antigua in the near future.

“We have to understand that we have a number of conventions that we have to make sure that we adhere to. This is a major international case. The eyes of the world are on the nation. Who gave us the moral authority to think that the money that we have should go into our consolidated fund? We do not know what will become of this. The war is still on. What if we were to sell and then sanctions are taken upon us? Are we in a position to defend ourselves? I just want to suggest that we are in uncharted waters and we shouldn’t be rushing through this amendment,” she cautioned.

Opposition lawmakers had walked out of the assembly on Monday, complaining that they had only been given two hours to read proposed new legislation to legally effect the sale.