Public Holidays: Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President Insists Superyacht in Italian Vacation Hotspots is a Military Vessel
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Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President says that the luxury yacht Blue Shadow belongs to the African country’s Ministry of Defence. Why, then, has it spent the last few months travelling to swanky vacation destinations in the Mediterranean?
Using open source vessel tracking data, along with satellite imagery and publicly available social media posts, Bellingcat has located Blue Shadow — and a second superyacht reportedly owned by the Equatorial Guinean government — at various ports and anchorages in Portugal and Italy since June 2023.
Flight tracking data also show that an Equatorial Guinean government aircraft and a private jet frequently used by Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the country’s vice president since 2016, made multiple trips to and from airports in Italy in close proximity to Blue Shadow from September 11 to October 3, 2023.
In one instance, the private jet flew to Sardinia, where the superyachts Blue Shadow and Ice had already arrived. Five days later, the plane departed for Milan, where posts on his Instagram account show that Obiang, who is nicknamed Teodorín, attended a runway show at Milan Fashion Week. Afterwards, he headed to this year’s UN General Assembly in New York.
The findings add to longstanding concerns about the use of public resources for the private enjoyment of Equatorial Guinea’s ruling family, which has been accused of subsidising its lavish existence with the country’s resource revenues to buy everything from mansions to Michael Jackson memorabilia at the expense of the people it purports to serve.
Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue addresses the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 21, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Teodorín is the son of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s authoritarian president, who seized control of the Spanish-speaking Central African nation in a 1979 coup. The subject of a long running string of corruption cases, he has a criminal conviction in France for embezzling his country’s resources to benefit himself, is sanctioned in the UK, and US authorities seized millions in assets from him. Swiss prosecutors auctioned off a collection of his luxury cars they confiscated from him for US$27 million, but released a US$100 million yacht.
“It is not just that Teodorín is using state-owned resources, it’s that there is no effective distinction between the family and the state,” said Sarah Saadoun, a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in an interview with Bellingcat. “It is that he is using state funds to purchase personal items that are registered in the name of the state. So when the Swiss authorities tried to seize his yachts, he argued that they were actually owned by the state. It protects him from corruption to have it in the name of the state.”
In addition to confirming Blue Shadow’s positions in Portugal and Italy, Bellingcat confirmed that the vessel was accompanied by Ice, another megayacht reported to be government-owned and one which Teodorín is known to have used in the past.
Blue Shadow’s position from August 17, 2023 to September 29, 2023. Source: MarineTraffic
The Press Office of the Equatorial Guinean government did not respond to Bellingcat’s multiple requests for comment. In February 2023 Diario Rombe, an independent Equatorial Guinean newspaper based in Spain, reported that the Ministry of Defence of Equatorial Guinea claimed that the yacht is used for “support, exploration and transportation” of defence personnel and asserted that “it enjoys immunity from jurisdiction and execution as it is a state asset.”
Blue Shadow’s Shadowy Owner
Blue Shadow was reportedly once part of the so-called “Golden Fleet” owned by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled bin Sultan, a self professed scuba diving aficionado.
Built in 1994, the 67-metre megayacht was refitted in 2017 before it was transferred from the office of Emirati Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum to Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of Defence in 2019. We verified the transfer using data from Equasis, a nonprofit created by the European Commission and the maritime administration of France, which collects data on the world’s merchant fleet.
Screenshot of companies associated with the Blue Shadow. Source: https://www.equasis.org/
More recently, Blue Shadow has been at the epicentre of a diplomatic clash between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea over Teodorín’s foreign-held wealth and allegations of torture.
When the vessel was undergoing repairs in Cape Town earlier this year, South African authorities seized the yacht and two homes owned by Teodorín — this in an effort to resolve over $2 million in legal damages he was ordered to pay to a South African businessman who won a lawsuit against the vice president over his unlawful detention and torture in Equatorial Guinea from December 2013 to August 2015.
Two days after the seizures, Equatorial Guinean authorities arrested two South African engineers working in the country’s offshore petroleum industry on drug trafficking charges. The South African government released Blue Shadow after the businessman renounced his claim, reportedly in an attempt to secure the release of its nationals. Obiang denied making any deal and at the time of writing the two men remain incarcerated.
It was during this standoff that Teodorín claimed in a post on Twitter, since rebranded X, that the megayacht is a vessel of his nation’s Ministry of Defence. Blue Shadow’s registration, however, points to the Vice President and his family.
Screenshot of a February 2023 Tweet by Teodorín
South Africa’s Sunday Times reported in February that the owner of the vessel is Marshall Islands-based Maritime Support Ltd — the company threatened South African authorities with legal action when it was initially seized.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime and Corporate Registries lists Maritime Support Ltd as an actively registered corporation created on June 5, 2019.
Screenshot of Maritime Support Ltd’s Marshall Islands registration status accessed through International Registries, Inc, a website that supports the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime and Corporate Registries
According to a bank document published by Diario Rombe, the Spain-based Equatorial Guinean newspaper, a company of the same name is registered in the same building as Grupo Abayak S.A. in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea’s capital. This office block is also called the Abayak Building, or Edificio Abayak in Spanish.
Esta es una de las empresas de #Teodorin registrada en el edificio del Grupo Abayak de los Obiang que transfieren millones en el extranjero desde #BANGE. Sólo la cúpula de #Bange conocen los entresijos de los Obiang. Si caen ellos, caen los Obiang. El motivo real de la suspensión pic.twitter.com/qhAHvupZxq
— Mocache Massoko (@MocacheMassoko) September 12, 2023
This is of particular note because Abayak, Equatorial Guinea’s largest corporate conglomerate, is controlled by President Obiang, First Lady Constancia Mangue, and Teodorín.
A 2004 US Senate report on foreign corruption highlighted Abayak for a 1998 partnership with ExxonMobil, whereby the company was entitled to a 15 per cent share of the oil giant’s profits in Equatorial Guinea, and accused the ruling family of transferring millions of dollars worth of government holdings to the accounts of offshore companies.
In addition to Blue Shadow, a supposed Equatorial Guinean Defence Ministry vessel, being owned by a private offshore firm, there is the matter of the flag under which it sails. According to Marine Traffic, the that is the flag of the Cayman Islands.
The Cayman Islands is one of 42 countries listed by the International Transport Workers’ Federation Seafarers’ Trust as offering “flags of convenience” (FoCs). This is a term for states that allow foreign-owned vessels to register and fly their country’s flag while enforcing “international minimum social standards on its vessels, including respect for basic human and trade union rights.” According to Diario Rombe, Maritime Support Ltd. appointed United Kingdom-based ship management company Manta Maritime Ltd. as the ship’s administrator in the Cayman Islands.
Governments are allowed to use or charter foreign-flagged ships and then claim diplomatic protection if they are used on official business, explained James Kraska, Professor of International Maritime Law at the US Naval War College, in an interview with Bellingcat.
This means that even though Blue Shadow flies the Cayman Islands’ flag, its ownership and control means it can enjoy full sovereign immunity of Equatorial Guinea.
Naval Exercises in Portugal, Sardinia and Capri?
Blue Shadow’s recent trips to Italy align with ongoing concerns about Teodorín’s use of government resources for seemingly leisurely, and not diplomatic, travels in the Mediterranean country. Last year, newspaper L’Unione Sarda reported that the Vice President chartered an Equatorial Guinean government-owned Boeing 777 to the island of Sardinia for a yachting trip complete with a visit to a vineyard estate.
In 2021, protesters gathered at the harbour when another yacht with ties to Teodorín docked at the Sardinian port of Cagliari. Blue Shadow reportedly visited Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda in 2019 and video footage of Teodorín enjoying a boat ride in Sardinia was posted to his TikTok account in November 2021.
Bellingcat traced Blue Shadow making its way to the Italian island and vacation hotspot just months after it was released from South African custody.
After the megayacht departed Cape Town on February 25, Blue Shadow sailed to Namibia, where it remained from February 28 to March 9, according to AIS data accessed on MarineTraffic.com and Lloyd’s List Intelligence. Arriving in Malabo on March 16, the vessel remained in Equatorial Guinea at various ports and anchorages until June 14 when it sailed for Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. On June 18, Blue Shadow departed for Portimão, Portugal, where it remained at port for nearly 50 days from June 28 to August 17.
Left: A satellite image showing Blue Shadow docked in Portimão, Portugal on July 3, 2023. Source: https://skywatch.com/
Right: Blue Shadow’s location in Portimão, Portugal on July 3, 2023. Source: MarineTraffic
On August 17, Blue Shadow departed Portimao and spent the next 43 days sailing to and around Italy.
On August 21, the vessel arrived in the Gulf of Cugnana, off the towns of Portisco and Porto Rotondo in northeast Sardinia. On September 3, Blue Shadow was joined by Ice, another superyacht that the Maritime Executive, a shipping industry publication, reported to be owned by the Equatorial Guinean government.
A September 13 Instagram post by a local trattoria in Portisco, Italy contains a picture that shows two vessels resembling the Blue Shadow and Ice in the bay.
Screenshot of an Instagram post by a Sardinian Trattoria showing Blue Ice and Shadow moored off Portisco, Sardinia. Bellingcat has obscured the restaurant’s name
The identity of these vessels was established on MarineTraffic, which showed the Blue Shadow and Ice anchored in exactly the same positions in Portisco bay just one day before the Trattoria posted its photo to Instagram.
Blue Shadow and Ice positions in the Gulf of Cugnana off Portisco, Italy on September 12. Source: MarineTraffic/
A few days later, Ice and Blue Shadow were on the move again. MarineTraffic showed both vessels anchored off the island of Capri, in the Bay of Naples, on September 15.
Blue Shadow and Ice positions at anchor off the island of Capri on September 15, 2023. Source: MarineTraffic.
The two vessels soon returned to Sardinia.
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imagery taken on also showed two vessels in Portisco harbour again on September 25. A higher resolution version of this image can be accessed here.
SAR imagery provided by Umbra of two large vessels at anchor in the same locations off Portisco, Sardinia at 4:56 PM UTC on September 25, 2023. Source: https://umbra.space/
Once again, thanks to MarineTraffic we can identify these vessels as the Ice and the Blue Shadow.
MarineTraffic AIS data displaying the locations of Blue Shadow and Ice anchored off Portisco, Sardinia at 4:56 PM UTC on September 25, 2023. Source: MarineTraffic
The two vessels remained together until September 28 when Blue Shadow departed for Genoa and Ice sailed to Monaco, according to data from MarineTrafic. During the 25 days the vessels remained together, they mostly remained at anchor in the Gulf of Cugnana, making one joint voyage to the Italian island of Capri from September 14 to September 17.
The positions of Blue Shadow and Ice from August 20 to September 29, 2023. Source: MarineTraffic
Bellingcat was not able to confirm whether Teodorín was present in Capri while the Blue Shadow and Ice visited the island in mid-September, but he has previously visited the area by yacht. In 2017 Le Monde reported that he visited the island and a 2016 post from his Instagram account shows him on a boat off the island’s coast.
Teodorín pictured off the Italian island of Capri in September 2016. Source: Instagram
Flight tracking data accessed on ADS-B Exchange shows that a private jet with the registration number EJ-ADMI, one that Teodorín has according to his own Instagram account used before, landed in northeast Sardinia on September 12 and departed for Milan on September 17 before flying onwards to New York on September 18. Data available from ADS-B Exchange and accessed on DictatorAlert.org also shows that a Boeing 737 owned by the Government of Equatorial Guinea with the registration number 3CEGE arrived in northeast Sardinia on September 11 before departing on September 13.
Screenshots of EJ-ADMI landing in northeast Sardinia on September 12, 2023 and departing Sardinia for Milan on September 17, 2023. Source: ADS-B Exchange
Teodorín later confirmed in an October Instagram post that he had been in Milan on September 18 to attend the Miss Bikini runway show at the Palazzo Isimbardi as part of Milan Fashion Week.
Screenshots of stories posted to Teodorín’s Instagram account on October 11, 2023 showing him attending a Miss Bikini runway show at the Palazzo Isimbardi in Milan Italy on September 18, 2023
Another post on his Instagram account shows Teodorín using the private jet that flew to Milan as he arrived at the UN General Assembly in New York, which began on September 19.
Two weeks ago, Teodoro Obiang, Vice-Pres of Equatorial Guinea and son of the President, stayed at a $75,000 / night penthouse in NY @TheMarkHotelNY;
He attended the UN assembly, where he spoke about the lack of development in Africa and reforming the UN.
His Instagram vid: pic.twitter.com/Z7mnRf8Etv
— Emmanuel Freudenthal (@EmmanFre) October 3, 2023
The World’s Remotest Worker?
After the UN General Assembly in September, Teodorín continued to travel through multiple countries, ending up in a handful of other tourist-friendly locales.
The private jet he used to attend the UN summit departed New York City on September 23 and arrived back in Italy, in northeast Sardinia, on September 24. Three days later, on September 27, the plane flew from Sardinia to the Greek Island of Mykonos, famed for its nightlife and tourist-friendly beaches. On October 5, a series of stories posted to Teodorín’s Instagram account showed him walking near the island’s iconic windmills.
A screenshot of an Instagram story posted on October 5 of Teodorín walking next to the Mykonos windmills
On September 29, the private jet returned to Milan, where DictatorAlert shows that the government-owned Boeing 737 landed the same day and remained until October 3. In photos posted to his Instagram account on October 8, Teodorín can be seen boating on Italy’s Lake Como, an upscale resort area and well-known celebrity destination hotspot.
Teodorín pictured on Lake Como in an October 9, 2023 post to his Instagram account. Source: Instagram
At the end of September, MarineTraffic showed Blue Shadow docked in Genoa and Ice docked in Monaco.
Corruption and Impunity
From Sardinia to Milan to Mykonos, Teodorín’s life of luxury contrasts starkly against the standard of living of the people of Equatorial Guinea. Despite abundant oil and natural gas resources and one of the highest GDPs in the region, the country ranks poorly in indicators of human development.
“This is different from a president who uses a state-owned resource for a vacation or for personal use. This is a whole other level, it’s using state resources to purchase expensive real estate and yachts that are registered in the name of the state, but that are exclusively for his [Teodorín’s] personal pleasure”, said Saadoun, the HRW researcher. “ The yachts don’t serve any official function. And so it’s just another example of how the state, its resources and its immunities act as a personal shield for the personal benefit of the family.”
Tutu Alicante and Emmanuel Freudenthal contributed research
*СМИ, выполняющее в России функции иностранного агента и признано нежелательной организацией