Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich rose from obscurity and successfully navigated the shady world of early Russian privatization to become one of the world's wealthiest self-made billionaires. His 40-man private army of security personnel make him one of the best-protected businessmen in the world, and when his private gigayacht the Eclipse is handed over in time for Christmas this year, it will be the largest (at a staggering 560ft) and the most expensive (at US$1.2 billion) private yacht the world has ever seen. Security will be as tight as you'd expect, with missile defence and intruder detection systems - but the Eclipse's most notable feature is a privacy system that can detect the digital cameras of snooping paparazzi and blind them with laser bursts, ruining spy photos.
The Eclipse is absolutely ginormous - at 560ft (170m) long, it makes minnows of Wally's Floating Island, Paul Allen's Octopus and every other monster yacht in the world. And while owner Roman Abramovich has lost an estimated 3 billion UK pounds in the current financial crisis, word is that he's still sparing no expense on his biggest and best toy yet.
Abramovich will need as many as 70 crew members to run the Eclipse, which also features two helipads, 11 guest cabins, two swimming pools (one of which can be drained and converted into a dance floor), three launch boats, an aquarium and a mini-submarine that can dive to 50 meters below the ocean surface.
The billionaire's master bedroom will be armor-plated and fitted with bulletproof glass, as will the bridge. Missile detection systems will warn the crew of any incoming rockets, and there's a bunch of anti-intruder, anti-bugging and other security systems on board - which might come in handy if Russia qualifies for the Soccer World Cup in 2010. Should Abramovich decide to take the Eclipse for a spin down to South Africa to watch, this gargantuan pleasure craft would make a tasty prize for the increasingly bold Somali pirates that work Africa's East Coast.
But it's the Eclipse's anti-paparazzi system that's stirring up the most interest. Abramovich and his ex-model girlfriend Daria Zhukova are so keen not to appear in tabloid spy shots that he has fitted the Eclipse with an innovative laser system that is said to be able to detect the CCDs of digital cameras and blind them with laser bursts - rendering any photos useless, presumably without destroying the cameras.
The anti-paparazzi system won't be permanently activated, so Abramovich's guests will be able to take happy snaps while on board - but if security personnel see a nearby vessel and suspect that there are photographers on board, it can be quickly switched on.
This kind of protection, of course, will do little but stir up the interest of the most hardcore paparazzi - and presumably the system is useless against good old film cameras. But it's an indication of just how annoying such intrusions must be when you're one of the world's richest men, riding on the world's biggest private yacht with your supermodel girlfriend. Sorry Roman, but I'm not sure if I can drum up a whole lot of sympathy here.
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