Emirati royals knock Abramovich off top of yacht league

Azzam, thought to be the world’s largest yacht.
Source: Superyachts.com
Azzam, thought to be the world’s largest yacht.

They flaunt their cash around the world, buying soccer clubs, owning airlines and running banks. Now the Emirati royal family rules the waves too after ranking first in a league table of owners of the world's biggest megayachts, knocking billionaire Roman Abramovich off the top spot.

French yachting magazine Yachts France said the 590-foot (180 meter) Azzam took first position, ending the three-year reign of Eclipse, Abramovich's yacht which sizes in at 536 foot (162.5 meters).

Azzam's owner was previously unknown, but Yachts France, which creates the annual megayacht league table, revealed it belongs to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nayan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Emir of Abu Dhabi.

(Read more: The world's largest yachts 2013)

The floating palace boasts six bridges and a 6000-square foot (550 square meter) lounge, and can move at a top speed of 31.5 knots (58 kilometers per hour), making it the third-fastest yacht in the league.

It was designed by Nauta Yachts and built by German manufacturer Lürssen, who said that it was "without a doubt the most challenging yacht that has ever been built."

Yachts France did not reveal the price of the boat, but it is estimated to have cost between $400 million and $600 million to build.

French interior decorator Christophe Leoni was in charge of the décor which was described as turn-of-the-century Empire style.

Of the top 100 yachts featured in the list, 31 were owned by people from the Middle East, 19 were Russian owned, and 17 belonged to Americans.

(Read more: World's Biggest Yacht Launches at 590 Feet)

Industry experts have said that the luxury yacht sector has remained strong during the recession as the race to build ever-bigger megayachts has intensified over the past few years.

"There are long waiting lists for megayachts in the big European shipyards. The demand is strong because the extremely rich are getting richer in recession," Derek Levy, the founder of Spheredawn, a yacht surveying company, told CNBC.

He said that the superrich are buying luxury yachts for "status" calling them a "must-have possession".

Steve Jobs' estate also made an appearance in the top 100 list with his yacht Venus, a Philippe Starck-designed 256 foot (78 meter) super yacht ordered before the Apple co-founder's death in 2011. It ranked 88th.

The Dutch-built yacht features a control panel made up of iMac computers but was only allowed to leave Amsterdam last December after Jobs' estate paid a deposit to resolve a dispute with Starck over payment for the design.

David Geffen, owner of record label Geffen Records, is the highest ranked American yacht owner with his 453 foot (138 meter) Rising Sun, sitting in tenth place.

British inventor James Dyson is the highest ranked U.K. entry at 36 with Nahlin, his 300 foot (91 meter) yacht.

—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal and @CNBCWorld