The Florida student who gained attention for tracking the private planes of Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk and Russian oligarchs has a new target on Twitter: the luxury yachts of Russia’s elite.
Jack Sweeney, 19, created @RussiaYachts Saturday, a Twitter bot that monitors and posts the on-water whereabouts of super-rich Russians. As of Sunday afternoon, the account had over 9,300 followers.
“I kept getting more and more people in my direct messages saying, ‘Can you do the yachts too? So, I did,” Mr Sweeney said in an interview on Sunday.
His @RussiaYachts account tracks the movements of 23 luxury boats, some of which are owned by the same Russian billionaires Mr Sweeney follows through the air at @RUOligarJets.
Mr. Sweeney also created @PutineJetwhich tracks aircraft possibly used by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Sweeney, a freshman at the University of Central Florida, opened these two accounts on February 26, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine. His @RUOligarJets account amassed nearly 395,000 followers on Sunday, while bot tracking planes associated with Mr Putin had more than 102,000 followers.
Mr Sweeney’s jet tracking robots rely on public data from aircraft transponders which record longitude, latitude and altitude and calculate location based on an algorithm he created in 2020.
For yachts, Sweeney relies on similar data from onboard security devices that transmit and monitor the locations of large vessels.
For now, he updates his tracking program manually whenever the data changes. To gain full access to the Automatic Identification System database which collects the information, Mr Sweeney would have to pay for it, he said.
“I don’t really know what it would cost because there are different options,” he said. “I’m just doing it manually, for now, until I can automate it.”
Mr Sweeney said one thing is simpler about tracking yachts over planes: it is much easier to determine which oligarch owns which boat.
Since the start of the war, many Russian oligarchs have been placed on sanctions lists by the United States, European Union, United Kingdom and others, subjecting their yachts, real estate trophies and other trinkets to freezes and other restrictions. Western governments say these oligarchs have taken advantage of close ties to Mr Putin. The scrutiny has transformed a group of mostly obscure officials and businessmen into some of the most followed individuals in the world.
Authorities have seized a number of superyachts and property belonging to some of the Russian-sanctioned billionaires.
Mr Sweeney first rose to prominence in early February with his bot account @ElonJetwhich tracks and publishes the movements of a private plane it claims belongs to Tesla’s Mr. Musk.
He said Mr. Musk asked him in private messages to delete the account, citing personal security concerns. Mr. Sweeney replied that he would eliminate @ElonJet in exchange for a new Tesla Model 3. Mr. Sweeney said he had never heard from Mr. Musk.