Headline Making Superyacht Sinks off Malaysia

The 75-metre headline making superyacht sank off the holiday island of Langkawi © Handout

The 75 metre, headline making superyacht Enigma (ex Phocea) has sunk off the coast of the Malaysian holiday island of Langkawi.

The four masted, schooner rigged four masted sailing yacht had famously been at anchor less than one nautical mile northeast of Pulau Singa Kecil (Lion Island) itself ten miles away from Langkawi Island

As she sank beneath the waves, the headline making superyacht took with her many a good seafarer’s yarn not least amongst them being, the fire that sank her.

Seven crew members were saved without injury from the burning superyacht after rescuers were alerted to the fire on 18th February

Mohamad Zawawi Abdullah, a senior coastguard official told news outlets “We managed to control the fire, but the damage to the hull caused by the fire may have caused the yacht to sink.  She sank in the early hours of Friday 19thFebruary 2021.

Following the sinking, Malaysian government officials were said to be investigating the cause of the fire, and that the agent in charge of the vessel had been informed of the sinking.

© Handout Seven crew members were saved from the headline making superyacht after rescuers were alerted to the fire on Thursday

The 531gt superyacht was first attended just after 0800 local time to by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).  Maritime First Admiral Mohd Zawawi Abdullah, the agency director, reported that, there was no oil leaking from the yacht.

According to local news sources, other agencies involved in the rescue, fire-fighting operations and damage assessment included: the Royal Malaysian Navy (TLDM), the Marine Police Force (PPM) Department of Fire Department and Rescue of Malaysia (JBPM), the Malaysian Sea Department and The Department of Environment for assistance.  Assets from other agencies, KD Mahamiru and RHIB Boats from TLDM, PA 4 Boats from PPM and MV Suhail from the Malaysian Sea Department together with the Malaysian Fire Department where also on hand to extinguish the fire.  All attempts to save the headline making superyacht were in vain because 24 hours or so after catching fire she sank to the bottom.


Built by the French shipyard DCAN in Toulon she was launched as Club Méditerranée for the French sailor Alain Colas in 1976.   He sailed her in the Observer single-handed trans atlantic yacht race that year and came across the line in second place but was awarded 5th place when all the handicaps were calculated.  Just two years later on November 16th her flamboyant owner skipper was tragically lost at sea off the Azores whilst racing in the Route du Rhum aboard Manureva a custom built trimaran.

At the time of her launching, Club Méditerranée was the largest sailing boat in the world, and made headlines for the very first time at her launch.  Built upside down the shipyard had no way of turning her prior to launching so she was dumped rather unceremoniously into the water creating a rather large wave and was then turned over in the water and her inside pumped out.  She emerged from the builder’s yard long and narrow with each of her four masts carrying Bermuda style sails and was dubbed by several observers at the time as an ocean going greyhound.

 the headline making superyacht

With her short lived ocean racing career over, she was converted into a cruise ship by her original builders and chartered well under the Club Méditerranée brand.

This luxury yacht has a steel hull with a aluminium superstructure, a beam of 9.57m (31’4’ft) and a 6.13m (20’1’ft) draft. She features bow thrusters to assist manoeuvrability at low speeds. Phocea is built to comply to MCA and ABS standards.

She was rebuilt between 1983-1986 this time at Marseille, for he new owner Bernard Tapie who initially called her For a time she was known as La Vie Claire, naming her after the chain of health clubs he then owned.  Tapie was to ensure that she was never far from being headline news and it was he who gave her the name Phocea during the time he owned her

Bernard Tapie rose from humble beginnings to become a high profile charismatic businessman and a minister in the French Socialist Government.  Tapie also gained fame and notoriety as an occasional actor, singer, and TV host.  He made his fortune in the early part of his career by taking over failing companies and was famous for flaunting his wealth.  At one stage he owned, the La Vie Claire cycle team, the Adidas brand and the Olympique de Marseille football club.  Later he faced a string of legal problems that led to his downfall when he was implicated in match fixing, corruption and fraud crime.

In 1997 Phocea was sold for €5.65 million and became the property of Mouna Ayoub, the ultra-glamorous Lebanese born socialite, made rich by her divorce from Nasser Al-Rashid a high-born adviser to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.  It was reported at the time, in international newspapers, that she funded her purchase and the subsequent refit by selling the Mouna diamond, at 112 carat (22.4 g) the record-breaking gem was the largest yellow diamond in the world.  She sold it for €2.52 million along with several other lesser jewellery pieces by Bulgari and Tabbah to pay for the $17 million refit at Lürssen in Germany.

Ayoub hired the superyacht designer Tim Heywood to head a team of designers to modernise the yacht and sail systems and upgraded the engineering.  After several meetings and advances with the design, he was replaced by a French interior decorator because Ayoub considered Heywood “too expensive.’ That French interior decorator lasted 2 weeks!  Jörg Beiderbeck then became involved with the interior design and David Linley the cabinet making son of Princess Margaret was commissioned to built some wonderful furniture.  While Heywood left the client’s employ, he was, unbeknown to her, hired by Lürssen to complete the project.  Heywood modified the superstructure and gave it her full height wheelhouse.  It had to be totally   rebuilt as there was a crack in every corner of every window – where previously they all had right angled corners.  Heywood also conceived and designed a new aft stairway, to the upper deck and bridge access doors, along with many other subtle design innovations.

In 1999, a refurbished Phocea left the yard and began to serve her mistress. In 2004, she lost her crown as the worlds largest sailing yacht when the 90 metre Athena by Royal Husiman was launched for the American billionaire Jim Clark.

One year later, the headline making superyacht did it again appearing on the front pages of national newspapers when she crashed into rocks off Sardinia while the Prince and Princess Michael of Kent were aboard. Three people were seriously injured, and the yacht was damaged below the waterline.

The yacht was again sold in 2010.  This time to Anh Quan, a Thai national, who, in 2012, became a citizen of Vanuatu.

Although at the time of her sale she remained formally flagged to the land-locked Duchy of Luxembourg, she was later to become flagged in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The much maligned headline making superyacht again became the focus of international media when in Port Vila the capital of the island nation Vanuatu.  The press buzzed with dark implications about drugs and illegal arms.  In August of 2012 she was raided by Vanuatu authorities on suspicion of drug smuggling and passport fraud.  Thirteen of her crew members arrested.  Owner Pascal Anh Quan Saken, at the time on the way to becoming Vanuatu’s Honorary Consul to Vietnam, left the country just before the raid, but the vessel was impounded by the Vanuatu authorities.  Then the policeman who started the investigation was suspended, and it was reported in the local Vanuatu press that two ministers of the government went on board the vessel without customs clearance.  The story then degenerated into claim and counter claim of fraud and deception by both police and local politicians.

SAILING YACHTS FOR SALE, if the price and payment conditions are right you may want to go ahead and buy the yacht with a general check up with a surveyor or experienced captain to assure that she is worthed your money

Sources close to Vanuatu’s Ports and Marine claimed $40,000 has been set aside in an out-of-court agreement for the yacht to be allowed to leave Port Vila harbour, while Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Sato Kilman issued instructions that Anh Quan’s diplomatic passport be cancelled.

What happened then is somewhat hazy.  She sailed away, changed her name and port of registry and reappeared at anchor off the coat of Malaysia dropped anchor and seldom left the anchorage.

We last saw the yacht in that spot in February 2016 and, having once been interviewed by Madam Ayoub as a couple to run the yacht for her, were appalled at the state she was in.

There was little doubt then that the yacht was worth a lot less than her reported values.

So, for now, maybe that is the last we will hear of this headline making superyacht.  The enigmatic lady has fallen for Davy Jones and gone to meet him.  My only question is: did she go willingly, or was she forced?