Yesterday, February 20, 2008, Saddam Hussein’s superyacht Ocean Breeze escaped Nice. In this photo, taken an hour before the Ocean Breeze took off, the yacht is still in Nice’s Port Lympia.
The 82-metre (270-feet) Ocean Breeze, built in 1981 by Danish shipyard Helsingor Vaerft for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, started life as the Qadissiyat Saddam. It was awaiting a buyer in the port of Nice, with an asking price of € 23,5 million (US$34 million). The vessel reportedly remained at Jiddah, from 1986 until last fall, when it showed up in Nice with a new name, “Ocean Breeze,” embossed on its streamlined white hulk.
The Ocean Breeze has a Caribbean connection. A “legal entity” incorporated in the Cayman Islands, claims to own the boat, but it is hiding the name of the “beneficial owner.” However, we know that this firm is part-owned by King Abdullah of Jordan. A French court ruled last summer that it should be returned to the Iraqi government.
The sale of the Ocean Breeze could be thwarted, however, if Iraq can prove it belongs to someone in the late dictator’s entourage – and now, therefore, to the government in Baghdad. The Nice Commercial Court will likely have a hearing in March to determine the rightful owner. The government in Baghdad suspects the yacht, which French authorities seized on Jan. 31, 2008, is still Iraqi. But the posh yacht brokerage firm Nigel Burgess says other owners, whom it will not name, have asked it to sell the vessel. Viewing is strictly forbidden, but several photos of the interior on the Internet site of Nigel Burgess show an opulent Middle East-style decor in blue and gold hues that match the azure sea at sunset.
Its ownership is now as uncertain as Iraq’s shifting sands, shrouded in mystery and perhaps intrigue. A cohort of Saddam? A Saudi royal? Or a jet-setter hiding behind a shell company? “The yacht was ordered and paid for by the Iraqi government at the beginning. That is certain,” Ardavan Amir-Aslani, a lawyer representing the Iraqi government, said in an interview by telephone. Now, the Iraqis believe the vessel “may belong to Saddam’s entourage.”
“Iraq is basically trying to recover the money of the Iraqi people that was unlawfully transferred abroad,” Amir-Aslani said.
According to an account in the French daily Le Figaro, corroborated by Amir-Aslani, the Ocean Breeze, made for a 35-member crew, has about 10 rooms, several salons with large-screen TVs, pools, and saunas. The Middle Eastern despot-chic decor features plenty of gold, silver, and marble, Arabesque arches, fancy fountains, gold-tap bathrooms, table and silverware for 200, a medi-clinic with surgical suite (who wants to play doctor?), helipad, 14 cabins for 28 passengers, and – because god made this all possible—prayer rooms.
Less glamorous but more telling of Saddam’s real-world concerns are the bulletproof windows, a missile-launching system – disarmed – and a secret passage leading to a mini-submarine for escape if the vessel comes under attack. It was unclear whether the mini-submarine is still part of the yacht, but the Le Figaro account implied that it is.
And then, yesterday, all of a sudden, in broad daylight, when I was enjoying the view of the Bay of Angels from the top of Mont Boron, I saw the Ocean Breeze leave the port and sail towards Italian territorial waters. From there it can go anywhere and it will be elusive to the French courts and the Iraqi government.
All photos copyright Jack Vanderwyk
Further reading (update 2 november 2008): http://www.telegraaf.nl/buitenland/2359806/__Irak_verkoopt_Saddams_jacht__.html?p=25,1 . (Dutch)