I charter superyachts in Dubai. We're seeing more Russian clients, but they're not partying like they used to.

I charter superyachts in Dubai. We're seeing more Russian clients, but they're not partying like they used to.
Carol Liew, left, is partner of Dutch Oriental, a Dubai company that operates megayachts, including the Lotus, right.Courtesy of Dutch Oriental
  • Carol Liew is a partner in Dutch Oriental, which operates super- and megayachts in Dubai.
  • She said there were more Russian clients in recent months, but they were choosing cheaper charters.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Carol Liew, a partner in Dutch Oriental, a super- and megayacht charter company in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My partner and I have been working together for 25 years. We started out in information technology in Singapore, but moved to Dubai 10 years ago, focusing on the super- and megayacht charter industry.

Our fleet of yachts has slowly expanded during the past decade to more than 20 boats, but the standout yacht in our fleet since 2017 is the custom-designed Lotus, a 73-meter, five-deck megayacht with 17 rooms, including eight for crew, a 60-seat cinema, a 200-person nightclub, six Jacuzzis, and a 42,000-liter pool, valued at roughly 70 million euros.

Operating from Dubai Marina, Dutch Oriental offers packages from exclusive charters for catered weddings and private parties on the Lotus, which typically start at 50,000 euros for four hours to public dinner cruises that cost 49 euros per person.

We have hosted a variety of people including sports stars, royalty, presidents, prime ministers, Miss Universe and Miss World, and many Hollywood movie stars, but as is the nature of the industry, you need to be very discreet with names.


During the past few months, we have seen a notable increase in Russian clientele

Where once there'd be a handful of Russians that would charter mega- and superyachts for private parties with friends that they had flown into Dubai, we're now seeing more intimate charters, with a 40 to 50% increase in Russians chartering at the entry and intermediate level.

As a result, our regular dinner cruises book more Russian clients than ever before, and our 20-meter to 30-meter yachts are being rented much more than our 40-meter to 70-meter yacht rentals, which have almost bottomed out completely.

Because of international sanctions, it's difficult for Russians to access their funds and fly friends and family into Dubai for private charters.

Some wonder why wealthy Russians don't just bring their superyachts into Dubai. First, it is difficult to traverse the Suez Canal; second, due to regional turmoil in places like Yemen and Iran and concern about Somali piracy, it's dangerous to bring a superyacht into the region.

That's why most charters in the region are kept to half a day, rather than the multiple-day charters available in places like the Caribbean or Mediterranean.


If the Russians who have moved to Dubai had yachts, they didn't bring them

We've seen a general uptick in the market for commercial charters in the region and the rental market of superyachts since the start of the war in Ukraine.

We have seen Russian colleagues trying to purchase basic items like groceries, but only able to access a few thousand from bank accounts or who have had their credit cards blocked, so there really isn't the same environment of celebration, travel, and partying among Russian clientele that we saw in the past.

Dutch Oriental has even been asked if it could help to manage yachts for wealthy Russians or assist them in insuring yachts to help them bypass sanctions.

Obviously, we could not do that. That's not our business model and, more importantly, we do not wish to be seen on the wrong side of history or of sanctions.

We're about to face what is generally the low season during summer, which is when most residents and locals escape the heat and humidity of Dubai, but we're hoping we'll be able to expand our fleet soon.