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Megayacht Serene
Serene with Rangitoto in the background. Photo: Sam Mahayni/Tourism New Zealand.

Russian megayacht ships in NZ

Russian megayacht ships out – next stop Nelson

Megayacht Serene is heading north this afternoon with its next destination listed as Nelson after a week in Auckland.

The 134m long vessel is due to arrive next Monday, suggesting it will spend time cruising offshore along the way.

Visiting superyachts typically spend time in the Bay of Islands while visiting New Zealand.

Serene is owned by Russian vodka baron Yuri Schefler but it is not confirmed he is aboard the vessel.

During its stay in Auckland it Serene attracted considerable public attention while moored at Princes Wharf and some tried to breach tight security to get on board. The vessel can be chartered.

Asia Pacific Superyachts NZ arranged the visit and is providing services for it while it is here. The firm said the $423 million Serene was the biggest superyacht to visit this country.

The vessel is almost 19m wide – slightly wider than a boutique French cruise ship that visited last week. Serene’s interior layout sleeps up to 24 guests in 12 cabins with up to 52 crew.

Serene was built by Italian shipyard Fincantieri

Serene was built by Italian shipyard Fincantieri

Serene is equipped with with a Eurocopter which regularly flew off its deck during its stay in Auckland.

Superyacht service companies are reporting a very busy summer in the sector that has received a boost from Tourism New Zealand’s promotion of luxury here and support from Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development.

The owner’s suite boasts an exterior hot tub on its terrace. This stateroom has a centred oversize California King bed, full walk-in dressing area and spacious ensuite bathroom. It has its own lift which links to a “sea cabin” on deck two, with a private swim platform. Behind the owner’s suite is a salon, lounge bar and library with a fireplace.

There’s an internal seawater swimming pool, a hot and a cold jacuzzi plus jet stream swimming pool on the sundeck.

The vessel – more than three times as long as Fuller’s biggest ferry in Auckland – also has a cinema, library and an indoor climbing wall for kids.

It impressed onlookers this morning. “I haven’t seen anything like it,” said Gavin Bakewell who builds an early morning walk of the waterfront into his day. “I guess this is how the 1 per cent live.”

Roger McElroy picked it as a Russian owned boat. “I wouldn’t mind having a look around it. It does look fairly nice.”

According to supermoney.com, Serene last year was the fifth-most expensive superyacht afloat, costing US$330 million to build.

It is more expensive and 15m longer than superyacht “A” – also owned by a super-rich Russian – which attracted intense interest when it visited last summer.

Asia Pacific Superyachts NZ provided support for A and the firm’s founding director, Jeanette Tobin, said getting such a high-profile vessel here was a coup for the superyacht support industry and luxury tourism. Serene is coming here after the yacht’s managers spoke to their counterparts on A.

It is not known whether Schefler will be aboard because Serene can be chartered. Basic charter rates for Serene start at 1.6 million (NZ2.4m) a week. Last August Microsoft founder Bill Gates and family were spotted off Sardinia after hiring the boat for a week.

Ms Tobin said spending by the party and crew during the visit would be “huge” – into the millions of dollars. It is likely to cruise around the coast but spend some time in Auckland.

Other superyacht owners who visit enjoy the relaxed lifestyle and quintessentially Kiwi pastimes such as hunting and fishing, said Ms Tobin.

She has been offering concierge services to superyachts for the past 12 years and said the tourism side of the business had boomed in the past year.

The Grand Cayman Islands-flagged Serene was built in Italy and launched in 2011. It reportedly took three years to build.

Ms Tobin said the busy Auckland Anniversary Weekend, Seafood Festival and busy cruise ship season created challenges finding space for the 8200-gross tonne vessel, which makes a splash wherever it arrives around the world.

Serene is about 18m longer than the latest and biggest superyacht New Zealand billionaire Graeme Hart has ordered from a shipyard in Norway.

How Serene’s owner made his fortune – and a powerful enemy

Yuri Schefler, the Russian owner of Serene, avoids publicity and stays away from the Motherland after falling out with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

He is in his late 40s and is the head of SPI Group, which produces and distributes Stolichnaya vodka and other labels once owned by the Soviet Union.

After leaving the Russian army in September 1987, Schefler studied at the Russian Academy of Economy before starting a business career which has included running one of Moscow’s leading shopping malls and an airline.

He branched into the spirits business and through a series of deals he added distilleries, a retail network in Russia and the Baltic states and developed an international distribution arm.

In 1997 he bought a company that became the heart of what has grown into SPI today.

But Schefler made a powerful enemy in Russian President Putin, who launched a campaign to wrest control of Stolichnaya back to the state soon after coming to power in 1999. An arrest warrant for Schefler was issued in 2003.

Schefler has not lived in Russia since early last decade and SPI has its headquarters in Luxembourg.

During a visit to New York last year, in an interview with CNBC, he was sharply critical of Putin and Russia’s stance in the Ukraine.

“If Russia were a democratic country as the US, with a proper legal system, and Crimea had asked it for help to defend itself from a hostile neighbour, then this would be okay,” he wrote in the email. “There is only one law in Russia, and it’s called ‘Putin’. Only one justice, called ‘Putin’.”

Forbes magazine put his net worth at US$850 million a decade ago.

by Grant Bradley

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