Basra locals float plan to display Saddam Hussein’s luxury yacht

The Basrah Breeze, pictured in 2008, when it was moored in Nice in southern France (AFP/File Photo)
The Basrah Breeze, pictured in 2008, when it was moored in Nice in southern France (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 28 June 2021

Basra locals float plan to display Saddam Hussein’s luxury yacht

The Basrah Breeze, pictured in 2008, when it was moored in Nice in southern France (AFP/File Photo)
  • Local experts disagree on whether plan to feature boat as museum viable
  • The Iraqi dictator’s 82 meter yacht was seized by Iraq in 2008, after going up for sale in Nice, France

LONDON: A luxury yacht once owned by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could be repurposed as a floating museum in Basra, Iraq.

Built in 1980 by a Danish shipyard, the 82 meter motor-yacht was, at the time, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

After Hussein’s fall from grace it was abandoned, before eventually being recovered by the Iraqi government in 2008 and donated to Basra University for use as a maritime research vessel.

But operating it as a research tool became prohibitively expensive, and now senior museum officials are reportedly seeking to feature it as part of a new exhibition.

Qahtan Alabeed, the director of Basra’s Museum — housed in Hussein’s former palace — wants to feature the yacht in a new project dedicated to Iraq’s nautical past.

“We want to reactivate work to rebuild a number of types of boats that sailed in the (Shatt Al-Arab) river and marshes. We already have around 16,” he told Boat International, a yachting website, adding that Basra’s mayor backed the plan.

The ship was named Qadissiyat Saddam by the disgraced dictator, in reference to a historical battle between Persians and Arabs in which the Arabs are said to have emerged victorious against all odds. Hussein went to great lengths to draw comparisons between that ancient battle and the brutal war that took place between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s.

The vessel passed through many hands before emerging for sale in Nice in 2007. The government of Iraq, working through the French courts, then seized and repatriated it.

Now renamed Basrah Breeze, experts have warned that the museum’s plan for a floating exhibit could be prohibitively expensive. 

The hull alone could cost as much as $1.5 million to restore, said one local academic, and others doubt whether anyone in Iraq has a solid and sustainable plan in place to make use of it. 

Ali Douabul, the former head of the Marine Science Center where the boat was donated to, told Boat International: “If you ask me, the government has been misled to take this yacht, because they don’t have the ability to use it properly or commercially.

“They thought it might be worth $200 million — I don’t know where they got their figures from.”

The solution, he said, may lie outside of Iraq.

 “Perhaps an international organization like the International Maritime Organization should take care of it, because Iraqis will not. Then it becomes world heritage.”