Monday, November 23, 2020

Hundreds of Abandoned Ships Rusting Away in Russia’s Rivers, Reservoirs and Coastal Waters

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 20 – Hundreds of ships abandoned by the Russian military, trading companies, and scientific research expeditions and their Soviet counterparts earlier now lie rusting away in the country’s rivers, reservoirs and coastal waters, presenting dangers not only to navigation in many places but to the environment in almost all, Yuliya Makarova says.

            Some of them are concentrated in places which have become known as “cemeteries” for ships, but a far larger number have simply been abandoned, journalist Yulia Makarova says, creating serious navigational problems as well as leaking oil and other contaminants into the water supply (

            The problem is particularly acute along the coastline of the Far East. In August, Prime Minister Mishustin observed bitterly that what was supposed to be a port there was in fact “more like a ship cemetery,” one for which no one has taken responsibility because the dying ships belong to a variety of institutions and companies. 

            Yury Trutnev, presidential plenipotentiary for the Far Eastern Federal District, says that there are “more than 550” dying ships in his area alone. No one has offered a definitive figure for the Russian Federation as a whole, but people with whom Makarova has spoken say that the number may be as high as 1500.

            These vessels often are simply abandoned rather than being cleaned or processed for scrap. They have been the cause of serious shipping accidents because the authorities don’t keep track of them and so pilots of other ships sometimes collide with dead ships lying just under the waterline.

            During his visit to the Far East, Mishustin called for addressing the problem of abandoned ships and said they must be removed and concentrated in places where they won’t be a problem. (Vladimir Putin made a similar observation in 2014.) Those calls attracted attention, but they were not followed by any money and so nothing has happened.

            That sad reality has just been confirmed by an RBC investigative report ( Moscow demands that shipowners dispose of their ships in a safe and orderly way, but the realities of the marketplace are that it is cheaper and easier to abandon ships and pay the rare fines that might be imposed.

            Some have suggested transforming at least a few of the ship graveyards into museums or parks and then use the money from tickets to ensure that as the ships decay they do not harm the environment as much as they are doing now. But that seems more a cry of despair about yet another problem the current regime isn’t addressing than a real call for action.

            Abandoned ships are seldom the kind of problem that anyone addresses, and Makarova is to be praised for calling attention to it. Only when the ships involved were nuclear powered, as was the case of Soviet abandonment of such vessels in the Arctic in the last decades of the USSR, has the problem attracted much attention.

            At that time, Captain Aleksandr Nikitin called attention to the horrific possibilities such abandonments entail in a report for the Bellona organization and sparked international outrage although much less action than many hoped for or even demanded (


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