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$120m megayacht owned by real-life Willy Wonka spotted in small Irish town

A 300ft long megayacht belonging to a billionaire candy company owner was seen docking in a small Irish town this weekend.

The Air, a charter boat worth an estimated $120million, was spotted in Cobh, Co Cork on Sunday.

The seven cabin ship is owned by Augusto Perfetti of Perfetti Van Melle, the manufacturer behind some of America's favorite treats, like Trident gum, Mentos and Airheads.

The 74-year-old Italian runs the company with his brother Giorgio and is worth an estimated $2.9billion to $4billion. He has a number of properties, but is believed to mainly live in a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida .

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Perfetti may not visiting Ireland this weekend, however, as his yacht is usually chartered by customers.

Those customers are probably still high-flyers though, seeing as the cost of staying on the vessel is about $992,000 per week.

The Air, which gets its name from Airheads candy, fits 12 guests in its seven cabins, with more room downstairs for the 22 crew members on board. There also jet skis and scuba diving equipment available, as well as a gym, cinema, helipad, and swimming pool.

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The yacht, which was built in 2011, arrived in Irish waters from Gibraltor, according to data from MarineTraffic.com.

Perfetti hasn't been spotted yet but he is said to be a fan of the golf courses in Co Cork and Co Kerry , so locals are keeping their eyes peeled.

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The Air costs $992,000 per week to charter

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AIR Yacht – Extraordinary $120M Luxury Superyacht

AIR yacht is a charter yacht that can be chartered for approximately $992,000 per week. She is an 81-meter behemoth designed for comfort and having fun times while out on the harsh seas.

With the concept of fun at the top of their priorities, you could have access to their jet skis, WaveRunners, and other toys onboard the AIR superyacht.

Air
81 m (266 ft)
14 in 7 cabins
24 in 12 cabins
De Voogt Naval Architects
Rémi Tessier
2011
17 knots
MTU
1,893 ton
1011472
US$ 120 million
US$ 8 – 12 million

air yacht back image

AIR yacht interior

The AIR yacht was interiorly designed by the famous Remi Tessier , who started his design career training as a cabinetmaker for over seven years.

Now, he has transitioned and applied all his learnings in yacht designing and has been the one responsible for some incredible yachts. 

One of these yachts is the Squall yacht; a 53-meter yacht delivered back in 2002; She can comfortably travel at cruising speeds of 10 knots and go up to 14 knots.

Another of these yachts is the PARSIFAL II, a charter yacht that can readily welcome up to 10 guests at a time and can be attended to by six qualified crew members.

air yacht

Designed for entertainment, the AIR yacht lacks nothing in the amenities department. She has a full-blown gym, a swimming pool, a beauty room, an elevator, an impressive movie theatre, a jacuzzi, a spa room, and a commercial helipad.

She also has full air-conditioning and internet connection throughout the yacht.

Adding to this, she has access to tons of toys on board. Guests can choose from a plethora of activities they can do, such as riding in one of their jet skis, kayaks, scuba diving equipment, water skis, wave runners, and even inflatable water toys.

air yacht design

Specifications

The AIR yacht currently spans 265 feet or 81 meters, has a beam of 38 feet or 11.6 meters, and a draft of 11.8 feet or 3.55 meters. She is built with a steel hull, along with an aluminum superstructure. 

Although she weighs a hefty 1,893 tons, her powerful twin MTU engines partnered with her jaw-dropping 177,000-liter fuel tanks, she can easily cover a distance of over 5,000 nautical miles and can cruise at speeds of 15 knots, and can even go up to speeds of 17 knots.

air yact back

AIR superyacht was engineered by famous designer Henri de Voogt, who started his passion for yachts by participating in races.

They are now famous for their creative exterior yacht designs and have been involved in several yachts such as Bliss and Viva.

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Confectionery

If you enjoy Mentos, Airheads, or Chupa Chups, thank the Perfettis. Augusto Perfetti’s fortune comes partly from the Italian confectionary enterprise that produces these treats, Perfetti Van Melle. The company is the world’s third largest confectionery manufacturer, employing over 17,000 employees in over 38 countries worldwide. In 2017, Forbes reported that the company, which is now owned by Augusto and his brother Giorgio, had over $2.8 billion revenue in 2017. Art is inscribed into the family’s business—Chupa Chups lollipops, which are among the confectionary’s most popular offerings, have a logo designed by the Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. 

The Perfetti candy dynasty can trace its roots back to Izaak Van Melle. In 1900 Melle started a small confectionary business in Breskens, the Netherlands. He converted the family bakery founded 60 years earlier by his grandfather into what would become a business that would grow to become one of the preeminent enterprises in its industry. Just over a hundred years later, Perfetti Van Melle was established when Perfetti Spa acquired Van Melle. But Augusto lives quite a life beyond his business, and he also owns a storied $120 million yacht that the New York Times has reported can be seen docked in St. Moritz, Switzerland, a destination for the art-world elite. One of his yachts, a 90-meter behemoth dubbed Air , made headlines after its sale to Russian oligarch, Suleyman Kerimov, who promptly renamed it Ice . What Perfetti collects is less well-known, though—a fact that can be attributed to his frequent mentions of a shyness when speaking in interviews and a preference for privacy. Nevertheless, he has established himself among the art world’s upper-most rungs.

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Here's how much it would cost you to rent the Air yacht in Cobh and what's on board

You would nearly have to be a Hollywood star to afford it

  • 16:35, 31 MAY 2019

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With all the rumours circulating about who could be on board the yacht in Cobh, you're probably interested in what the yacht is like itself.

It's worth just over €100 million so chartering it is pretty expensive, so much so you would nearly have to be a Hollywood star to afford it.

So in case you have run into a bit of money lately, here's all you need to know about the Air yacht.

Who owns it?

air yacht perfetti

Luxury yacht Air is owned by Italian billionaire Augusto Perfetti, who has made his money in the confectionary trade with his business Perfetti - Van Melle.

They make mentos sweets as well as Air chewing gum, which this superyacht is named after.

Augusto is a private man and doesn't have much information about him readily available on the web but we do know he is worth €6.3 billion.

He also resides in Switzerland these days when he is not aboard the yacht.

What would I find on board?

It's a pretty impressive boat as the €100 million price-tag suggests.

Onboard there are 7 cabins which can sleep 12 guests whilst also making room for the 21 members of crew.

It is decked out with a jacuzzi(which can be transformed into a cinema jacuzzi), a gym, wifi, a helipad and a little pool.

Multiple lounge areas are also on the deck.

air yacht perfetti

How much to charter it?

air yacht perfetti

Well you've read all about it now and are probably dying to rent it out yourself, right?

Well unless you have €895,000 hanging around you won't be on the Air yacht anytime soon.

And that's just for a single week, plus expenses aren't even taking into account in that price.

However, if you are just a bit short of the above price, fear not - that is only for the summer months with winter prices a much more reasonable €710,000.

Who's on board at the moment?

air yacht perfetti

Well that is the big question, rumours are flying around that it could be a big Hollywood star , and with those kind of prices you wouldn't be surprised would you?

Loads of people have been trying to get a glimpse of who it could be but at the moment no one is certain.

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Real-life Willy Wonka's $120m superyacht docked in Cork harbour

The owner of the yacht, Augusto Perfetti, is worth $3 billion through his business exploits with the Perfetty Van Melle sweet company, which manufactures classic treats like Chupa Chups, Trident and Mentos

  • 14:06, 10 JUN 2024

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A massive superyacht belonging to an Italian billionaire was spotted mooring in Cobh harbour over the weekend, a yacht on which guests are charged a small fee of $1 million per week to take a ride.

The owner, Augusto Perfetti, is worth $3 billion through his business exploits with the Perfetty Van Melle sweet company, which manufactures classic treats like Chupa Chups, Trident and Mentos.

The yacht, named Air, is a charter boat which can be rented by wealthy holidaymakers who have $992,000 lying around, Cork Beo reports.

READ MORE: Michael Mosley postmortem confirms exact time star died and rules out 'criminal act'

READ MORE: Irish people with these surnames could be heirs to forgotten fortunes

The yacht houses 12 guests in seven cabins, with up to 22 crew members onboard at any one time to keep things running smoothly. The Air is equipped with jet skis, scuba diving equipment, a gym, a cinema, a helipad and even a swimming pool.

Some have speculated that Perfetti - said to be a golf fanatic - uses the boat's onboard helicopter to take trips to his favourite golf courses around Cork and Kerry. As well as jet skis and scuba equipment, you'd hope that Perfetti would also stretch to providing a bowl of complimentary lollipops and mints.

The Air is named after Airheads taffy, one of his company's best-selling brands, while his private jet takes its registration ID 'M-NTOS' from the Mentos mints. While Perfetti makes use of a yacht and a plane, his brother and business partner Giorgio, 57, is said to own one of the world's most-coveted Ferrari collections.

Perfetti commissioned the construction of the Air in 2011 - after selling a near-identical vessel named Ice to Russian oligarch Suleyman Kerimov in 2005. Kerimov sold the Ice on for a whopping $150 million ten years later.

Kerimov, whose own fortune stood at $11 billion in 2022, has been subject to US sanctions since the Russian invasion of Ukraine due to his close ties with Putin's government. Data from MarineTraffic.com says that the Air arrived in Irish waters on Sunday after setting off from Gibraltar on Sunday, 2 June.

Perfetti's superyacht is not the first vessel of its kind to take a spin to the Rebel County. Last year, the €80 million Scout visited Kinsale. The Scout is owned by billionaire James Berwind, who has a backstory like something out of hit TV series Succession.

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16 superyachts owned by Russian oligarchs

Western sanctions over moscow's invasion of ukraine led to many luxury vessels being detained in europe.

Two superyachts linked to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich were spotted on the Turkish coast on Tuesday, 'Eclipse' and 'My Solaris'. Mr Abramovich is among several wealthy Russians added to an EU blacklist as governments act to seize their yachts and other luxury assets. AP

Two superyachts linked to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich were spotted on the Turkish coast on Tuesday, 'Eclipse' and 'My Solaris'. Mr Abramovich is among several wealthy Russians added to an EU blacklist as governments act to seize their yachts and other luxury assets. AP

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Live updates: follow the latest news on Russia-Ukraine

Several luxury yachts owned by wealthy Russians have been detained across Europe this month.

It comes after the West imposed sanctions on oligarchs over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine .

Some have taken evasive action – two such superyachts linked to billionaire Roman Abramovich were spotted approaching the Turkish coast on Tuesday. A group of Ukrainians tried to stop one of the yachts from docking in Turkey.

Chelsea FC owner Mr Abramovich is one of several oligarchs who were added to an EU blacklist last week as governments acted to seize yachts and other luxury assets owned by the billionaires.

Western sanctions resulted in many large vessels relocating from Europe in the past few weeks. Several have headed to places such as the Maldives, which have no extradition treaty with the US.

Where is the Abramovich-owned yacht heading?

Mr Abramovich's yacht Eclipse was seen heading towards Marmaris on Tuesday, according to data compiled by monitoring site Marine Traffic, which was seen by Reuters.

The previous day, his superyacht Solaris was moored in Bodrum, about 80 kilometres from Marmaris, data showed, after skirting waters of EU countries.

There was no suggestion Mr Abramovich was on board either of the yachts.

Ukrainians attempt to stop Abramovich's yacht docking in Turkey

Ukrainians attempt to stop Abramovich's yacht docking in Turkey

Which yachts have been detained?

On Monday, a superyacht linked to another Russian billionaire was detained by authorities after docking in Gibraltar.

The Axioma , believed to belong to Dmitrievich Pumpyansky, moored at Gibraltar on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Reuters TV footage showed.

Mr Pumpyansky, who is under UK and EU sanctions, owns Russia's largest steel pipe maker TMK. Data shows the 72-metre vessel is owned by a British Virgin Islands holding company called Pyrene investments, Reuters reported. An article published as part of the Panama Papers leaks names Mr Pumpyansky as a beneficiary of the holding.

On March 12, the world's biggest sailing yacht, called Sailing Yacht A and owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko , was seized by Italian police.

Several other luxury yachts have also been detained across Europe, including in Gibraltar, Mallorca in Spain's Balearic Islands and the French coast.

Here are 16 superyachts linked to wealthy Russians

1. Eclipse , a superyacht linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich , was this week spotted heading in the direction of Marmaris in Turkey.

2. Solaris , belonging to Mr Abramovich , moored in Bodrum at the start of the week.

3. The Axioma superyacht, belonging to Russian oligarch Dmitrievich Pumpyansky , who is on the EU's list of sanctioned Russians, was detained by authorities after docking in Gibraltar on Monday.

4. The Crescent , which was seized by the Spanish government in Tarragona, Spain, on March 17. The ship's owner is not publicly known, although it is believed to belong to Russian Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft Oil in Moscow.

5. Ragnar , owned by former KGB officer and Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, who is not on the EU sanctions list.

6. Tango , owned by Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who was sanctioned by the US on March 11.

7. Lady Anastasia , owned by Russian arms manufacturer Alexander Mijeev, is retained at Port Adriano, Mallorca, as a result of sanctions against Russia and Belarus issued by the European Union.

8. Valerie was seized by the Spanish government in Barcelona, Spain, on March 15. Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that the ship is linked to Rostec State Corporation’s chief executive Sergey Chemezov.

9. The $578 million Sailing Yacht A owned by Russian billionaire Andrey Igorevich Melnichenko was seized by Italian police in the port of Trieste on March 12.

10. The 156-metre Dilbar superyacht is owned by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

11. La Datcha belongs to Russian billionaire businessman Oleg Tinkov.

12. Lady M , owned by Russian oligarch Alexei Mordashov, was seized by Italian police on March 5.

13. Amore Vero was seized in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat on March 3 by French authorities. The yacht is linked to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

14. Quantum Blue , owned by a company linked to Russian billionaire Sergei Galitsky, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, was seized in southern France on March 3.

15. Superyacht Luna is owned by Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov.

16. Triple Seven is owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov, according to media reports. The yacht was last up for sale in 2020 for €38 million ($41.85 million).

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Air Show Report : MAKS 2005 Moscow International Aviation & Space Salon

, all photos by author

Financial reasons have restricted Russian Air Force equipment from attending airshows in the west for many years. We visited the best place in all of Russia to see military aircraft perform, the MAKS air show. This trade show is held at the test field of Zhukovsky, which is situated approximately one and a half hours South East from the centre of Moscow. Many aircraft types can be seen around the field on numerous parking areas. The shows flight line only uses up half of the runway which is a good indication of the size of the place!

Static aircraft included Russian Air Force and Navy. Representing Naval aircraft was a MiG-29K with folding wings and arrestor hook, also a Sukhoi Su-33 Navy Flanker with folding wings plus folding elevator surfaces. Air Force types included an Sukhoi Su-34 Platypus Bomber Flanker, MiG-31 Foxhound long range, high speed interceptor. Plus a MiG-21 Fishbed and various MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker Squadron machines.

American aircraft in the static display included a pair of 494th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagles based at Lakenheath. One of the pair having a multi striped tail fin indicating a Commanders machine. The only pair of F-16C aircraft at the show belonged to the 22nd FS based at Spangdahlem in Germany.

The flying display begun with a formation of three Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft trailing the colours of the national flag, red, blue and white.

Then to follow was the Russian Knights display team. Flying four single seat Su-27 Flankers, and the solo aircraft being a two seater aircraft. Performing tight turns and loops in formation, mid way through the routine the solo Su-27 Flanker straightens up from a turn formation and thunders away to hold while the remaining four Flankers continue the display. After the four break from formation toward the crowd line, the solo two seater returns to finish the remainder of the display. Russian performances are notorious for using flairs during their manoeuvres, the solo Flanker fulfilled this anticipation by firing flairs while executing a barrel roll in reheat rolling away from the crowd!

Fast reheated passes seemed to be absent from the display routines due to fuel wastage but the noise was supplied by high G turns with vapour boiling off upper wing surfaces!

The second fast jet display team of Russia is the Swifts consisting of five MiG-29s painted in red, white and blue. A bird out line is depicted on the upper and lower surfaces of the aircraft. The display routine is similar to the Russian Knights with the team flying loop, roll, turn manoeuvres in close formation.

Other aerobatic display teams to participate were the French team, Patrouille de France and and the Italian team, Frecce Tricolori.

The only long range bomber to participate everyday in the flying was an American B-1B Lancer. Most spectators didn�t seem bothered about the noisy bomber. Maybe the crowds assumed the B-1B was fitted with a hush kit in comparison to Russian supersonic bombers!

But forget all the display teams, the most interesting thing to watch was the Sukhoi Su-30MKI Flanker with two dimensional Thrust-Vectoring engines. Thrust-Vector is where the thrust from a jet engine can be moved in terms of degrees. The thrust can be pointed up or down. This results in flight characteristics that are very peculiar! Extreme angles of attack, stall loops and super cobras which are past the 90 degrees mark. Because of the slow speeds involved with Thrust-Vectoring the control surfaces used for conventional flight simply do not have any effect.

The second aircraft in the flying display with Thrust Vector Control (TVC) technology was a MiG-29OVT Fulcrum. Although the MiG-29 does not operate this advanced engine system, it was used as a test aircraft. The newest MiG-29 variant, the MiG-35 featuring TVC, was announced at the show by RAC MiG. It will also include modern technology from the MiG-29M/M2. The latter was also in the flying display.

Thrust-Vectoring has been tested on western fighters including the F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-18 Hornets. Although TVC have not been incorporated with these particular combat aircraft for operation, the new F/A-22 Raptor uses thrust-vectoring.

Despite the Mirage 2000C lacking Thrust- Vectoring technology the French Pilot still managed to impress and proved the delta-winged Dassault-built aircraft to be extremely agile and very manoeuvrable. Normally thrown around, but this time really making full use of those onboard computers!

Even with all this Russian kit, most noticeably the Russian spectators all were clapping and cheering the flying displays... if you�re taking pictures and the Swifts or Russian Knights are inbound to perform then you better hold your spot because the fence gets swamped!



If you�re a Fan of Russian aviation there's no better place than Zhukovsky to visit... Just remember. Pinch yourself if you think you might be dreaming!

Report and photos by Andrew Philpott ( view portfolio )

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Tucson Air Branch aircrews lift migrants in distress

TUCSON, Ariz. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) UH-60 aircrews rescued 5 migrants trapped in rugged terrain in the Peloncillo Mountain range over the weekend.

Friday afternoon, a Tucson Air Branch Black Hawk aircrew responded to an air support request Douglas Station Horse Patrol Agents for a group of migrants who were experiencing heat exhaustion. The aircrew was joined by three members of Tucson Sector’s Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) Unit; one of which was a Paramedic.  The first patient was unresponsive and seizing. After inserting two AMO Rescue Specialists to clear a landing zone, the migrant was loaded onto the aircraft and flown to an awaiting air ambulance. A second migrant suffering from heat exhaustion and delirious was then lifted to an awaiting Douglas Fire crew who also responded. The third migrant was unable to walk, necessitating the individual to be raised into the aircraft via hoist along with an AMO Rescue Specialist. The patient was also flown to awaiting Douglas Fire Department personnel for transport by ground ambulance.

An AMO aircrew rescue specialist is hoisted into the aircraft with an injured migrant

Sunday evening, an air support request resulted in a Tucson Air Branch aircrew crew being dispatched to the Peloncillo Mountain Range near the Arizona/New Mexico border. After finding an acceptable landing zone in the harsh/steep mountainous terrain, the first patient was loaded along with a member of the Douglas Horse Patrol Unit. The patient was airlifted to an awaiting air ambulance. The aircrew returned to retrieve the second individual who was taken to a waiting ground ambulance for transport to the same hospital in Sierra Vista. The horse Patrol Unit member was flown back to the rest of his team, to walk the remaining seven migrants in the group to awaiting transportation to the station for processing.

“Our aircrews are trained and capable of rapidly shifting from operational missions to humanitarian roles,” stated Jessie Scruggs, Director of Air and Marine Operations, Tucson Air Branch. “These two incidents represent what our aircrews are called to assist agents on the ground who encounter the growing number of migrants who become distressed by the unrelentless conditions they are placed in by callous smugglers.”

Transnational criminal organizations continue to recklessly endanger the lives of individuals they smuggle across difficult terrain and hot temperatures for their own financial gain. Smuggling organizations are abandoning migrants in remote and dangerous areas, leading to a rise in the number of rescues CBP has performed.  

CBP’s message for anyone who is thinking of entering the United States illegally along the Southern border is simple:  don’t do it. When migrants cross the border illegally, they put their lives in peril.

 AMO safeguards our nation by anticipating and confronting security threats through our aviation and maritime law enforcement expertise, innovative capabilities, and partnerships at the border and beyond. With approximately 1,800 federal agents and mission support personnel, 240 aircraft and 300 marine vessels operating throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands, AMO serves as the nation’s experts in airborne and maritime law enforcement.

In Fiscal Year 2023, AMO enforcement actions resulted in 1,004 arrests and 89,909 apprehensions of undocumented individuals, as well as the seizure or disruption of 256,883 pounds of cocaine, 2,049 pounds of fentanyl, 4,050 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,200 weapons, and $15.3 million.

For more information about CBP, visit:  CBP.gov ,  Flickr ,  DVIDS , or follow us on X , Instagram, and Facebook .

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is America's frontline: the nation's largest law enforcement organization and the world's first unified border management agency. The 65,000+ men and women of CBP protect America on the ground, in the air, and on the seas. We facilitate safe, lawful travel and trade and ensure our country's economic prosperity. We enhance the nation's security through innovation, intelligence, collaboration, and trust.

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Jeff bezos and lauren sánchez take greece by land, air and sea on mykonos yacht vacation.

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Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sánchez are taking Greece by land, sea and air.

An isle spy tells Page Six that the power couple has been seen on Mykonos, where helicopter pilot Sánchez was spotted taking a whirly-bird for a spin off the duo’s boat, which is filled with “toys,” y’know, like choppers.

Said the fellow traveler: “Jeff was seen coming from the city center in Chora ” — as the tony town is called by locals and in-the-know visitors — “and getting on and off his helicopter onto his smaller support boat.”

Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sánchez

The couple was also photographed strolling through the streets of Mykonos hand-in-hand.

The source further said that, “Lauren has been seen flying a helicopter on and off their support boat, where they keep all their toys . . . helicopters, speed boats and other water toys.”

The source also told us that, “Jeff’s keeping the super big boat they live on, on the other side of the island where there is less wind.”

Jeff Bezos, Lauren Sanchez

The source was referring to the couple’s famous $500 million superyacht , Koru, which they debuted last summer. Building of the mammoth vessel for the Amazon tycoon began in 2018.

Bezos also reportedly owns a “smaller” $75 million yacht, Abeona, which shadows his bigger boat . (One boat blog explained the concept: “In car terms, this is basically the same as buying a Porsche so you can drive to the garage where your Bugatti is parked.”)

The little ol’ support boat can accommodate 45, including 20 crew.

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Jeff Bezos, Lauren Sanchez

Bezos also owns a fleet of helicopters and private planes plus properties galore, of course.

Also on Mykonos as the summer heats up , we hear, is billionaire Jets owner Woody Johnson, who was spotted at fancy beach club Scorpios, after taking a tender from his own yacht.

Bezos and Sánchez have also been seen in Greece dining on the island of Hydra with Bezos’ son Preston.

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How Two Beluga Whales Made It to Safety From Ukraine

A pair of whales were extricated from the besieged city of Kharkiv and taken to an aquarium in Spain with help from experts around the world.

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By Marc Santora and Emily Anthes

Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Emily Anthes from New York.

It was a whale of an evacuation. Actually, two.

In what experts said was among the most complex marine mammal rescue ever undertaken, the pair of beluga whales were extricated from an aquarium in the battered city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine and transported to Europe’s largest aquarium in Valencia, Spain, on Wednesday morning.

As Russian aerial bombardments of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, have intensified, the evacuation of Plombir, a 15-year-old male, and Miranda, a 14-year-old female, came just in time, marine mammal experts said.

“If they had continued in Kharkiv, their chances of survival would have been very slim,” said Daniel Garcia-Párraga, director of zoological operations at Oceanogràfic de Valencia, who helped lead the rescue.

Belugas, whose natural habitat is the Arctic, need cold water to survive. The devastation of the power grid in Kharkiv meant that the aquarium there had to rely on generator power, making it challenging to keep the waters cooled.

At the same time, the whales’ diets were halved recently amid shortages of the 132 pounds of squid, herring, mackerel and other fresh fish the pair needed daily, Dr. Garcia-Párraga said. Ukrainian caregivers were even considering using discarded fish from restaurants and markets.

And in recent weeks, bombs exploded close enough to ripple the waters of their home at the NEMO Dolphinarium. As the conditions grew more precarious, the Ukrainians decided the whales required evacuation.

Firefighters stand outside or climb a ladder in night light amid twisted metal and the blackened wreckage of a building after a bombing.

Moving marine mammals can be risky in the best of circumstances. Transporting sick or stressed animals ratchets up the difficulty.

“You’d like to make sure that anybody that gets transported is as healthy as possible,” said Michael Walsh, a veterinarian who leads the marine animal rescue program at the University of Florida but was not involved in the operation.

In emergencies, he said, “you may not have as much of a choice.”

Dan Ashe, head of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the former head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it took “the world’s most elite team of marine mammal experts” to achieve what he said was “likely the most complex marine mammal rescue ever undertaken.”

Specialists from Oceanogràfic de Valencia, Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and SeaWorld all assisted the Ukrainians in the operation, a 36-hour journey over more than 1,900 miles that started on Monday evening and was completed just before dawn on Wednesday.

Kharkiv might seem an unlikely spot for belugas. But more than 3,500 cetaceans — a group of animals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises — live in captivity globally, said Lori Marino, an expert on cetacean intelligence and captive animal welfare. “I’m not surprised to find captive cetaceans anywhere,” she said in an email.

Dr. Marino, who is also the president of the Whale Sanctuary Project , said cetaceans should not be kept in captivity.

“But if they are, we have a moral duty to keep them out of harm’s way,” she said.

The NEMO Dolphinariums, which operate in several locations across Ukraine, have repeatedly faced accusations of animal abuse. UAnimals, an animal rights group that has evacuated thousands of animals since Russia’s invasion, issued a scathing report this year on the dolphinariums.

Olga Chevganiuk, head of the international department for the group, said the dolphinariums “must be banned in Ukraine right now.”

Natalia Gozak, a wildlife rescue field officer at the International Fund for Animal Welfare who works in Ukraine, said that while the rescue was welcome, the whales should never have been in Kharkiv, noting that there were signs that NEMO had illegally obtained some animals from the wild.

“They catch marine mammals and use them — train and use them for entertainment,” she said. “That’s definitely not OK.”

The operators of the NEMO facilities have denied charges of cruelty.

While some seals, dolphins and sea lions were evacuated from the facility, the dolphinarium in Kharkiv is still open. Even though air-raid alerts there can last for more than 16 hours a day, it has dolphin shows.

But as the bombardment of the city intensified, the challenges of caring for the belugas were too great.

Dennis Christen, senior director of animal well-being and behavior at Georgia Aquarium, who met the whales after they had crossed from Ukraine into Moldova, said in an interview that “the complexities of this evacuation were immense” and that rescuers had worked for weeks to prepare.

Mr. Christen and Dr. Garcia-Párraga both said the rescue would have been impossible if one of the world’s leading beluga whale experts had not lived in Kharkiv.

That expert, Olga Shpak, abandoned her research the day Russia invaded and moved to Kharkiv to help in the war, working with Assist Ukraine, a charity assisting soldiers and civilians at the front.

Reached by phone as she was driving across eastern Ukraine, Ms. Shpak said she was aware of the whales’ plight in Kharkiv when the war had started, but with Russian forces pressing against the city, evacuation was not feasible.

After the Russians were driven from the region in the fall of 2022 and the situation stabilized, the worries about the animals faded.

As conditions worsened in recent months and evacuation plans took shape, Dr. Garcia-Párraga reached out to Ms. Shpak. The two first met at a conference on beluga whales in Valencia in 2007 but had lost touch after the invasion. Once reconnected, Ms. Shpak became the central contact between the Ukrainians and the international experts.

Mr. Christen said they would pepper her day and night with a thousand questions and she fielded them all.

The issues started with Ukraine’s transport crates, which were not designed for belugas and were too small. The Ukrainians decided that each time a crate with a whale was lifted, they would drain the water rather than risk breaking it.

“The Ukrainian team did a great job moving the animals from Kharkiv to Odesa,” Dr. Garcia-Párraga said.

A member of the Oceanogràfic team met the truck carrying the crates in Odesa, where a critical inspection took place.

Once the truck crossed the border to Moldova, there would be no turning back. So if there was any issue with the crates or the health of the whales, they needed to spot it in Odesa. The team gave the greenlight and the whales were back on the road.

In Moldova, Dr. Garcia-Párraga and Mr. Christen hopped on the truck for the trip to the airport. Because the Moldovan airport lacked the heavy lifting cranes needed to move the whales, the rescuers chartered a specific cargo plane equipped with an interior crane.

Paperwork complications and the Italian prime minister’s simultaneous transit through the airport all added precious hours to the trip. As the clock ticked, the team needed to constantly monitor the whales and keep the water in the tanks between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius.

They finally reached Valencia before dawn, and by 6:30 a.m. they were in their new home.

“We were very focused on the animals,” Dr. Garcia-Párraga said. But he remained just as moved by the solicitude he saw from the Ukrainians who helped make the evacuation happen.

Even as they deal with their own trauma losing friends and loved ones, he said, they still showed deep compassion for the animals.

Marc Santora has been reporting from Ukraine since the beginning of the war with Russia. He was previously based in London as an international news editor focused on breaking news events and earlier the bureau chief for East and Central Europe, based in Warsaw. He has also reported extensively from Iraq and Africa. More about Marc Santora

Emily Anthes is a science reporter, writing primarily about animal health and science. She also covered the coronavirus pandemic. More about Emily Anthes

Our Coverage of the War in Ukraine

News and Analysis

President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, revived a Cold War-era mutual defense pledge  between their nations, a deepening  of ties  propelled by Putin’s need for munitions to use against Ukraine.

Mark Rutte, the departing prime minister of the Netherlands who has guided more than $3 billion in Dutch military support to Ukraine since 2022, is poised to become NATO’s next secretary general .

The European Union will impose economic penalties targeting some shipments of Russian natural gas  for the first time, hoping to deprive Moscow of income.

Inside Russia’s Chechen Units: After hundreds of years of enmity with Russia, Chechens are deploying to Ukraine to fight Moscow’s war .

Narrowing Press Freedoms: Journalists in Ukraine say they are subject to increasing restrictions and pressure from the government , adding that the measures go beyond wartime security needs.

Belugas Escape Ukraine: A pair of beluga whales were transported out of danger in Kharkiv to an aquarium in Spain in an incredibly complex rescue .

How We Verify Our Reporting

Our team of visual journalists analyzes satellite images, photographs , videos and radio transmissions  to independently confirm troop movements and other details.

We monitor and authenticate reports on social media, corroborating these with eyewitness accounts and interviews. Read more about our reporting efforts .

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IMAGES

  1. [AUGUSTO PERFETTI]: his Amazing US$ 120,000,000 Yacht AIR

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  2. AIR Yacht • Augusto Perfetti $120M SuperYacht

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COMMENTS

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  5. [AUGUSTO PERFETTI]: his Amazing US$ 120,000,000 Yacht AIR

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    Meanwhile, Perfetti ordered himself another Air yacht at Feadship. Out of the many alluring aspects that Ice features is her friendliness to the environment. In fact, the 90 meter yacht was the first to have Azipod drive units installed instead of shafted diesels that one would typically find onboard a motor yacht. A top priority in the ...

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    The Air yacht arriving in Cobh (Image: Colm McDonagh) Luxury yacht Air is owned by Italian billionaire Augusto Perfetti, who has made his money in the confectionary trade with his business Perfetti - Van Melle. They make mentos sweets as well as Air chewing gum, which this superyacht is named after.

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