Turkish police have uncovered a prostitution ring that operated aboard the Turkish state yacht Savarona. According to news agency Anatolia, nine Russian and Ukrainian women, two of them under 18, will be deported. Police also arrested 10 others in the sting. They are questioning Tevfik Ari, a New York real estate tycoon, in connection with organising the ring.

The 124m (408ft) Savarona, considered something of a national treasure, was the world’s largest yacht when it was launched by Blohm & Voss in 1931. It was owned by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, until he died in 1938. It has 16 suites, a 282ft gold staircase, cinema, Turkish baths and helicopter pad.

In 1989, Savarona was chartered for 49 years by Turkish businessman Kahraman Sadıkoğlu, who spent about US$25m on a refit that completely modernised the boat.

According to news sources, the yacht had been chartered by a Kazakh businessman in Bodrum for a week. It was en route to Antalya when the arrests occurred. Police had been surveying the organisers of the prostitution ring for seven months.

Prosecutor Yusuf Hakki Dogan told the Hurriyet newspaper that the yacht had been used twice as an “expensive brothel”, with clients paying up to US$10,000 per night. Five non-Turkish businessmen were arrested in the raid.

The Turkish government has cancelled the 49-year charter contract. Minister of Finance Mehmet Şimşek said that clause 3 of the charter contract stipulates that “the contract shall be annulled in case the yacht is being used out of its intended purpose, inappropriate with the nation’s historical heritage or contrary to the traditional habits and customs”.

Savarona will be turned over to the Ministry of Culture, which has announced plans to turn it into a museum.