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Russian vodka magnate's super-yacht Serene docks in Wellington

TOM HUNT/Fairfax NZ The 134-metre super-yacht Serene, docked at Queen's Wharf in Wellington.

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A $431-million super-yacht owned by an exiled Russian vodka magnate has docked in Wellington.

Parked up at Queens Wharf in Wellington, the yacht is drawing hoards of onlookers today.

CentrePort marine services manager Charles Smith said non-disclosure documents meant he could not reveal how long the ship would remain in the capital.

At 134 metres long - longer than New Zealand's two navy frigates and multi-role ship Canterbury - Serene is said to feature an internal seawater pool, two helicopter platforms and a helicopter hangar.

It is also rumoured to have a mini submarine aboard and a place known as the "Nemo room" - a glass panelled bulkhead for looking at the ocean beneath. Its underwater lighting is said to be dazzling from above.

Its owner, exiled Russian vodka magnate Yuri Shefler, has a taste for big parties, mansions and wants to diversify away from vodka to super-premium wine.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, Shefler and a group of investors moved in on 43 state-owned vodka brands, including Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya, and went into US$50m debt to get them.

Today, Shefler is said to be worth US$800m (NZ$1.04 billion).

Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted the vodka brands back and at one point Moscow had Interpol issue wanted notices for Shefler. He is not formally wanted now. 

However the battle continues and while Shefler makes "Russian" vodka, it is produced in Latvia.

Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya are banned in Russia and international court battles continue.

When Shefler is not using the boat, it can be chartered for €1.6 million (NZ$2.4m) a week.

His company, SPI Group, says Shefler has been travelling to key wine-making regions of the world "personally spearheading" the company initiative to get into premium wineries.

At 8231 tons, Serene might struggle to dock at Picton, although the Marlborough Sounds has plenty of discrete anchorages.

A press release from the company just over a year ago said they were assessing opportunities in California, Spain, Portugal and Chile. They've bought into Argentina wine as well.

Shefler's US$330 million (NZ$431 million) ship arrived in Auckland last month.

Where ever the Cayman Islands-flagged Serene is docked, it wins headlines, although Shefler, his wife and son are seldom photographed.

In 2012 it was docked at Saint-Tropez and became the scene of a briefly successful bid by rapper Chris Brown to get back together with singer Rihanna. Brown assaulted her and the romance ended with him going to jail.

In New York, the only parking large enough was the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. 

In some ports, Venice and San Francisco among them, the size of the ship off luxury beaches has drawn complaints.

           
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