Sunday, September 21, 2008

ms Admiral Nakhimov

The SS Admiral Nakhimov (Russian: Адмирал Нахимов), originally named Berlin III, was a ship used originally by Germany, but later converted to a Soviet passenger ship. On August 31, 1986, Admiral Nakhimov collided with a large bulk carrier Pyotr Vasyov in the Tsemes Bay, near the port of Novorossiysk, Russian SFSR. In total, 423 of the 1,234 people on board died.


At 10:00 p.m. Moscow Time on August 31, 1986, the Admiral Nakhimov sailed from Novorossiysk en route to Sochi, its next stop. There were 888 passengers and 346 crew members aboard. Most of the passengers were Ukrainian, with others from Moldavia, the Baltic republics and Central Asia. The captain of the ship was Vadim Markov.

Just minutes into the voyage, the ship's pilot noticed that the large bulk carrier Pyotr Vasyov was on a collision course with the Admiral Nakhimov. The Pyotr Vasyov was a Japanese-built, 18,604-ton freighter recently acquired by the Soviet Union, and was carrying a cargo of oats and barley from Canada. The pilot radioed a warning to the Pyotr Vasyov, and the freighter responded, "Don't worry. We will pass clear of each other. We will take care of everything."

Despite the message, Captain Viktor Tkachenko of the Pyotr Vasyov did nothing to slow his ship or change course. Convinced that the freighter would pass without incident, Captain Markov of the Admiral Nakhimov retired to his cabin, leaving his second mate Alexander Chudnovsky in charge. From 11 p.m., Chudnovsky radioed Pyotr Vasyov several times, asking about her course and her further actions. Chudnovsky changed the ship's course 10 degrees portside. At 11:10 p.m., Chundovsky cried on VHF to the freighter, "Immediately reverse full astern!" When it was clear that the freighter was headed directly for the ship, the Pyotr Vasyov's engines were thrown in reverse. The Admiral Nakhimov turned hard to port, but it was too late.

At 11:12 p.m., the Admiral Nakhimov was struck by the Pyotr Vasyov eight miles (15 km) from the port at Novorossiysk and two miles (4 km) from shore line, at 44°36′15″N, 37°52′35″E[3]. While many passengers had gone to bed by this time, some were on deck listening and dancing to a jazz band. They could only watch helplessly as the freighter rammed into the starboard side of the ship at a speed of about 5 knots (9 km/h). The Admiral Nakhimov continued forward with the freighter's bow in its side, ripping a 900 square foot (84 m²) hole in the hull between the engine and boiler rooms.

The Admiral Nakhimov immediately took on a list on her starboard side, and her lights went out upon impact. After a few seconds, the emergency diesel generator powered on, but the lights went out again two minutes later, plunging the sinking ship into darkness. People below decks found themselves lost in the dark and rapidly canting hallways.

There was no time to launch the lifeboats. Hundreds of people dove into the oily water, clinging to lifejackets, barrels and pieces of debris.

The Admiral Nakhimov sank in only seven minutes. Rescue ships began arriving just 10 minutes after the ship went down. The Pyotr Vasyov was not badly damaged, and assisted in the rescue effort. Sixty-four rescue ships and 20 helicopters rushed to the scene, and 836 people were pulled from the water. Some people were so slick with fuel oil that they could not keep hold of the hands of their rescuers. Sailors had to jump into the water to save people.

The Admiral Nakhimov lacked proper ventilation, which was the reason all 90 windows in the cabins were open during the accident. The bulkheads that would have prevented the ship from sinking were removed during the conversion.

Passengers and crew had had little time to escape, and 423 of the 1,234 on board perished. Sixty-four of those killed were crew members and 359 were passengers.

The Soviet government formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the disaster. It was determined that both Captain Markov of the Admiral Nakhimov and Captain Tkachenko of the Pyotr Vasyov had violated navigational safety rules. Despite repeated orders to let the Admiral Nakhimov pass, Tkachenko refused to slow his ship and only reported the accident 40 minutes after it occurred. Captain Markov was absent from the bridge. The law court took place in 1987 in Odessa. Both Captains Markov and Tkachenko was found guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced to 15 years in prison (both were released in 1992).

The event was not reported in the news for five days. The survivors were only allowed to send telegrams saying "Alive and well in Novorossiysk." All mention of the wreck was censored until the September 5 when the newspaper Pravda published a grievance for the victims.

The wreck of the Admiral Nakhimov lies on its starboard side in 150 feet (45 m) of water in Tsemes Bay off Novorossiysk.

From WWII and onwards
The Berlin was one of eight German ships commissioned as hospital ships (Lazarettschiffe) at some point during World War II. Most, if not all, of these ships also served in other capacities during the war after being decommissioned as hospital ships, mainly as accommodation or transport ships for military personnel. All German hospital ships were given alphabetic identifiers, the Berlin's being 'A'. On July 16, 1939, Berlin began her conversion to hospital ship and entered service with the Kriegsmarine as Lazarettschiff A, Sanitätsamt Ost on Aug 23, 1939. The ship had berthing for 400 patients, with a crew of 165. Initially serving in Norwegian waters, she was identified as “Field Post Number 07520”. By January 1945, the Berlin began taking part in Operation Hannibal, the transport of refugees and soldiers from the Eastern Baltic. On January 31, 1945, while forming up in convoy to head east, the Berlin struck a mine off Swinemünde, and was put in tow for Kiel.[2] She then hit another mine and was beached (23.53 hr, at position 54°02.6 N/14°19 E, in shallow waters). There was one fatality. All usable equipment was salvaged by Feb 5, 1945, and the ship was abandoned.

The Berlin was sunk by a mine near Swinemünde in German Pomerania (today Świnoujście Bay, Poland), on February 1, 1945. She was refloated and salvaged by the Soviets in 1949 and renamed Admiral Nakhimov after admiral Pavel Nakhimov, a 19th century Russian naval commander who played a promiment role in the Crimean War. After her conversion, her size was increased to 17,053 gross tons. She entered passenger service for the Black Sea Steamship Company in 1957. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the ship was used to transport soldiers to Cuba.

During the peak summer travel season, the Admiral Nakhimov operated cruises on the Black Sea between Odessa and Batumi, a six-day round trip. She carried an average of 1,000 people per voyage. She was the flagship of the Black Sea passenger fleet for several years until more modern liners entered service.

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