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Malta reportedly de-flags super yacht as intrigue unfolds across Pacific

Vanuatu media reports that Transport Malta has confirmed that provisional Maltese registration obtained last year for super yacht was ‘obtained without proof of ownership and other registration requirements’.

Karl Stagno-Navarra
21 January 2013, 12:00am
The blue hulled 'Phocea' which according to news reports 'Transport Malta on behalf of the Malta shipping registry has confirmed that provisional Maltese registration for the ‘Phocea’ obtained last year without proof of ownership and other registration requirements, was cancelled last week'

A tale involving a seized super yacht in Vanuatu and a mystery after-hours jet landing in Papua New Guinea, is said to be turning into an international intrigue with few clues offered to what is really going on.

Suspected of illegal activities, the 75-metre long four-masted yacht 'Phocea' has been under arrest in Port Vila harbour, in the South Pacific Ocean island of Vanuatu since it arrived from Italy, via Panama and Tonga, on July 14 last year.

A Thai-born personality with a Vanuatu diplomatic passport, identified as  Vu Anh Quan Saken, reputedly owns the super yacht, but the Vanuatu Government said that it cannot establish if it is registered anywhere.

According to a Radio New Zealand broadcast this morning, Transport Malta on behalf of the Malta shipping registry "has confirmed that provisional Maltese registration for the 'Phocea' obtained last year without proof of ownership and other registration requirements, was cancelled last week."

The multi-million dollar yacht reportedly caused political uproar in both Tonga and Vanuatu after government cabinet ministers went aboard it before it had even cleared customs.

Five women from the Philippines and Serbia were flown from New Zealand to Tonga to join it and there have been unconfirmed reports of diamonds, sacks of cash and illicit drugs.

The latest twist unfolding in Papua New Guinea is where, late last Thursday night, a Boeing Business Jet - a modified 737 - landed at Jackson Airport after its offices were closed.

Quan Saken, a principal in a company known as Amazonia Of The Pacific which is attempting to market agricultural produce internationally, was aboard with another Asian, also with a Vanuatu diplomatic passport, Saken Henry. The relationship of the two men is unknown but Vanuatu police have been trying to talk to them in connection with the mysterious 'Phocea' arrival in July.

Also at the airport was Vanuatu's Foreign Minister Alfred Carlot on an unannounced "private mission".

Papua New Guinea's national paper today quoted the country's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill saying investigations were continuing into the unexpected landing.

"Its crew and certain individuals on board were being questioned by relevant government agencies as part of the investigation," O'Neill said.

The jet has been allowed to leave with its passengers, but its destination was unknown.

The newspaper said the jet, an International JetClub Ltd jet registered N111, had flown in from the Maldives.

The Vanuatu Daily Post says the government there would like it to leave, but its paperwork is out of order and no one can establish where it is registered.


Meanwhile the Vanuatu government has suspended the island's ports director, who is now claiming that his suspension was "politically motivated."

The Vanuatu government, through its Public Service Commission, suspended the Director, Morris Kaloran, on Friday.

The official reason for his suspension remains unclear but Kaloran believes it is based on his refusal to release the mega-yacht, from detention in Port Vila harbour against the government's wishes.

"Well, they give me some reasons but I think it's only a cover-up. The reasons that were given to me for suspension, there is no ground for it. But the suspension was, I believe, politically motivated."

Morris Kaloran says that despite his suspension, the yacht's registration and crew documentation remain out of order and therefore the owner of the vessel has a case to answer.

He says the Phocea is not legally registered to any state, after the Maltese authorities confirmed that "provisional registration was obtained last year without proof of ownership and other registration requirements,."

According to the reports, Transport Malta "cancelled" the yachts provisional registration last week.

The yacht

The 'Phocea' was built in Toulon in 1976 for yachtsman Alain Colas who called her 'Club Mediterranee.' She competed in a Trans-Atlantic race for Colas, came second. Colas disappeared at sea the following year.

In 1982 French business man Bernard Tapie bought Phocea and had her converted to a private yacht at great expense. Tapie christened her Phocea, in honour of the Phoenicians who founded Marseilles where she was refitted.

Tapie later went to jail over corruption offences and in 1997 French Lebanese socialite Mouna Ayoub purchased the yacht - after she sold one of her diamonds, the largest yellow diamond in the world, and several other lesser jewels to pay for the US$17 million refit.