The story goes back to July 17, but it's only now boiling over and breaking into international media. On July 17, 2023, Opera, one of the most spectacular builds from luxury shipyard Lurrsen that was delivered earlier this year, arrived in the waters of Giannutri in Tuscany, Italy. That in itself is not newsworthy; after all, the multi-millionaires and billionaires of the world are all out cruising the summer away onboard their lavish superyachts. The fact that Giannutri is part of the National Park and closed off to all traffic, including by water, is.
Giannutri is a half-moon-shaped island part of a larger archipelago that is home to rare maritime species protected by law. Giannutri is inhabited only by a few people, has no roads, and no tourist infrastructure. It can be visited by tourists with a special permit and after paying a fee, but under strict conditions, including not bathing in the surrounding waters.
Opera entered the area through one of these passageways but didn't stay on it. It moored in the fully-protected Grottoni area and launched tenders and watertoys, which zipped even farther into prohibited waters. The whole thing was captured on camera by shocked island residents, who immediately alerted the Coast Guard, the National Park, and environmental association Legambiente.
According to local media, Legambiente publicly reached out to ministers of the Environment, Foreign Affairs, and Marine Policies, Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, Antonio Tajani, and Nello Musumeci, asking for measures against the "violation of environmental and maritime sovereignty." The group is also pointing out the lack of surveillance and security in the area, which would have prevented Opera from entering, and especially from spending more than 24 hours there, with complete disregard to local regulations meant to protect the fauna, flora, and maritime environment.
Legambiente and the National Park are also asking for Opera to be seized "at least for a few days" as a warning to others who might consider something like this in those waters. That's not likely to happen.
The owner of Opera is Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs. The same Antonio Tajani that Legambiente is urging to take action against the Sheikh met with him in June as part of Italy's attempts to "strengthen relationships with all Gulf nations" and forge profitable partnerships. Tajani doing "the right thing" and seizing Opera from the Sheikh would undermine all efforts at future collaborations.
Opera measures 146 meters (479 feet) in total length and has seven decks and an interior volume reported at well over 10,000 GT, which allows for accommodation for over 40 guests and 80 crew. It is the 10th vessel in the world by size and one of the 61 megayachts afloat today.
Reports in the industry claim that it features an exterior design by Terence Disdale on a naval architecture by Lurssen and that the interiors were also penned by Disdale. Other reports claim that Opera is actually Project Sassi reborn. Project Sassis was a 145-meter (476-foot) Lurrsen hull that burned down in dry dock in 2018, causing millions of damages.
Whatever the truth behind the build, Opera is an incredible achievement. Its recent expedition was anything but.