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Article by Chris Clifford

Pandora Mather-Lees

Pandora Mather-Lees discusses fine art export sanctions and the associated risks with crossing international borders without the relevant paperwork

In August 2015 Sailing Yacht ADIX was arrested in Corsica against a backdrop of media attention and a Picasso masterpiece which had been adorning the interior was confiscated. Until this time, few in the industry would have been aware of the implications of cultural heritage laws for captains, crew or indeed the yacht management companies.

The painting in question now sits in Madrid National Museum and the owner, Jaime Botin, faced up to 4 years in prison and a potential €100m smuggling fine. In most cases the objects are simply confiscated on the spot and subsequently destroyed or unceremoniously disposed of. It is unclear how many such incidents concerning superyachts have evaded the Press, however with increasingly valuable artworks on board, these itinerant floating homes entering new territories are forming a rich picking ground for customs and international authorities.

National treasure laws exist in developed territories to preserve its nation’s heritage for future generations; a kind of anchor for our place in history and a means by which we inform our past. Objects may have significant fiscal as well as cultural value, and countries are becoming more protective and even aggressive in their bid to win objects back. In some cases this has created diplomatic incidents.

Each territory has its own thresholds, standards and rules. In the UK, the Waverley Committee established three principles in the 1950s. This Arts Council committee decides whether an object marked for export is of outstanding aesthetic beauty, of critical importance for study and educational purposes or whether it represents a valuable part of the nation’s history. Lawrence of Arabia’s dagger, Jane Austen’s Ring and Canova’s Three Graces were refused export licences for such reasons and English museums and philanthropists were sought to match the sale price to compensate the new foreign owner so that they can remain in the UK. Even if granted the right to leave the country, licences have been revoked. In a recent extraordinary case, Italy revoked its licence for a painting of Camille Borghese sent to the Frick Collection in Manhattan. Italian authorities claimed “they did not know at the time the sitter was Borghese” despite the fact that there was a clearly marked label to this effect on the reverse! Understanding documentation relating to items on board is thus critical especially when onboarding new pieces of any value.

Endangered species
Such laws are just one of the export sanctions risks that captains and chief stews must be trained to field. Endangered species is another. ‘CITES’ regulations were established when 182 countries signed up to the Washington Convention in 1973 to control the movement across borders of what now amounts to 36,000 species and growing. These include coral, ivory, rosewood, butterflies and any number of oddities that have ended up aboard luxury vessels.

Superyachts have been impounded for something as innocuous as a fish skeleton to something as ridiculous as a butterfly painting by artist Damian Hirst. Industry anecdotes also include one rock musician’s rosewood guitar, another’s grand piano for its ivory and an owner’s inlaid cabinet where the ivory was hacked out Why are these laws in place and why are customs officers trained to search for these objects crossing borders? At a recent event in Monaco held by art training company Pandora Art Services, Keynote Speaker John Scanlon explained that 100,000 elephants had been slaughtered in under three years. Our planet has this year also lost the last ever male white rhino. Scanlon travels the world as special envoy at Africa Parks to fight poaching and illicit trafficking. He is ex Secretary General of the World CITIES Organisation, an international convention which has established trading regulations. A CITES licence must accompany objects crossing borders comprising or containing protected species, so a review of objects and documentation on board is therefore an important preventative measure. It is an area of compliancewhich dovetails with sustainable and responsible sourcing. Burmese teak decking from Myanmar recently caused a flurry throughout the industry with press reports of yachts which were below par. A third area relates to imminent EU regulation on looted antiquities crossing borders.

artwork on board superyachts
artwork on board superyachts

Antiquities and importation
Pandora Art Services working closely with ACREW Yachting hopes to educate captains, crew and management during September’s Monaco Yacht Show as part of the ‘INSIGHTS’ programme started in Monaco this April. Vessels crossing to and from EU borders should understand the new regulation relating to looted antiquities. EU Regulation 2019/880, framed at the end of 2018, brought into force in 2019 and taking effect fully from 2020 and beyond is essentially about stemming terrorist financing in conflict zones. Concerning the import of antiquities over 250 years and artworks over 200 years old, artefacts from outside EU territory must carry sound provenance with documentation to demonstrate they are clean from illicit trafficking. This is the first ever EU law regarding import of cultural heritage and anyone shipping items inwards must seek a licence for entry into EU territory. Each country will establish a register of licences and for other categories, statements of origin.

Responsible sourcing demands weeding out conflict objects, looted for instance from museums and archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq. Cultural items from both territories are already barred, however antiquities are now being traded internationally via multiple channels to fund terrorism, so this means enhanced vigilance. Value is immaterial and the European legislation specifies that painting, drawing, coins, sculpture, engravings as well as archaeological pieces apply. There are two categories, but antiquities are the more stringently controlled.

For the superyacht industry, states with weaker laws, varied border control or which are known vulnerable trafficking routes into Europe will be under scrutiny. Turkey along with other destinations in the East Mediterranean meets this criteria. The region is important for the superyacht industry and there is a strong case for raising awareness with captains, yards, crew and yacht management in how to prepare.

Along with these impending changes, other considerations for superyachts transporting art and artefacts concern the spoils of war. The museum world is undergoing incredible political pressure to return cultural objects taken during earlier conflicts. The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum is a famous and longstanding debacle and more recently, French President Macron has ordained that all the Benin Bronzes and African artefacts looted from present day Nigeria be returned. How this will play out with treasures finding their way into private portfolios remains to be seen.

The superyacht owner is inevitably an art collector and what can happen on land, can happen at sea. Vessels over 40 metres typically have lush interiors and carry fine art on board and vessels are growing with interior space becoming more impressive as one seeks to surprise and delight guests. Risks with fine art pervade, but can be contained and prevented.

ACREW’S April 9th INSIGHTS day in Monaco highlighted a number of key concerns bringing in conservators, shippers, art advisors, yacht security professionals and an art data company. Pandora Art Services subsequently announced a Market Intelligence Whitepaper detailing the numerous facets of art on board and how to mitigate these risks. An addendum will be published following the second INSIGHTS group during September’s Monaco Yacht Show. There will be an overview of the looted antiquities and other facets of dealing with art on board from industry experts. A free copy of the report can be obtained via Onboard magazine.

For more details visit: www.artonsuperyachts.com