A $93m (£67m) superyacht owned by Indian multimillionaire Vijay Mallya has been impounded in Malta in a dispute over the businessman’s failure to pay the crew more than $1m in wages.
Mallya’s 95-metre Indian Empress was boarded by port officials and prevented from leaving Malta on Tuesday as part of the crew’s legal action to recover unpaid wages.
More than 40 crew, including several Britons, Indians and eastern European workers, have not been paid since September when Mallya – who is fighting extradition from the UK to India – abandoned the vessel.
Some of the senior crew, who have not left the vessel since it was abandoned, are owed up to $92,000 in unpaid wages.
Mallya, a co-owner of the Force India Formula One team and self-proclaimed “King of the Good Times”, was arrested in London last year over allegations he supported his F1 team with money-laundered cash.
Indian authorities are seeking his extradition to face trial in India. Mallya is on bail pending an extradition hearing scheduled to begin in April.
Danny McGowan, strategic organiser of the maritime union Nautilus International, said crew were left with no choice but to ask the courts to hold the Isle of Man-registered superyacht ransom.
The yacht, which features a 15-seat cinema and Sir Elton John’s baby grand piano, has been impounded in a “maritime lien” which gives the crew claim over the vessel to the value of the unpaid wages.
“Our members onboard gave their employer and the ship owner multiple opportunities to pay monthly wages, displaying a loyalty and restraint greater than many would show in such situations,” McGowan said.
“These opportunities were regularly ignored by the owner, leaving us with no option but to take the case to the courts.”
McGowan said it was believed to be the first time a superyacht had been impounded in a dispute over unpaid wages.
He said the union had secured $615,000, which covers four months worth of unpaid wages from the vessel’s insurers under the international Maritime Labour Convention.
But he said Nautilus members were still owed an additional $330,000 and non-union crew members were owed hundreds of thousands more.
Charles Boyle, Nautilus’s legal director, said: “The superyacht sector is seen as one of glamour and glitz, but the sad reality is that crew members can experience exploitation and abuse, and that is why Nautilus has become increasingly involved in such justice case.”
A representative for Mallya did not respond to requests for comment. The 62-year-old businessman is on bail and living in a £11.5m mansion in the Hertfordshire village of Tewin, nearly Welwyn, 20 miles north of London.
Mallya, who was once known as the “Branson of Bangalore” for his business and sport empire that included Kingfisher beer and the Kingfisher airline, bought the Indian Empress in 2006.
He spent more than £5m refitting the yacht in 2015, which included making space for Sir Elton John’s black Yamaha Disklavier, which the singer had used to write the Songs from the West Coast album. Mallya bought the piano for €226,000 at a charity auction.