According to satellite imagery made available by Planet, Project 02690 class floating crane SPK-54150 – based at Sevastopol for the Russian Black Sea Fleet – has returned to Snake Island on, or before, 15 May 2022.
The whereabouts of SPK-54150 between today and when it departed the area on 12 May 2022 is unknown, but imagery from Sentinel dated 14 May 2022 shows it returning to the island.
Located at 45.224993 30.744780, the shape, colour and size of the floating crane can be clearly seen. The wake behind also shows the very slow speed it is travelling at – the class averages a speed of 6 knots generally.
Collected at 0857z, the floating crane is approximately 42 kilometres away from Snake Island – or 23 nautical miles.
Based on the average speed of 6 knots, it is actually more likely that SPK-54150 arrived around 1230z on the 14th. Obviously, this if it went direct from the spot located. Imagery is not available of Snake Island on 14 May 2022 later than this as far as I’m aware.
The resolution of the imagery available to me doesn’t show whether the floating crane has any cargo. No doubt further high resolution imagery will appear soon.
On 12 May 2022, reports starting coming in on Twitter about yet another attack on a Russian ship in the Black sea.
This time it was Project 23120 logistics support vessel Vsevolod Bobrov that was making the news.
Commissioned to the Black Sea fleet on 6 August 2021, Bobrov is one of the most capable and modern supply ships in the Russian Navy. To lose a ship like this would be quite a blow.
The ship has a displacement of 9,700 tonnes, measures 95 m in length and has a maximum speed of 18 kts. It has a range of 5,000 nautical miles or an endurance of 60 days. Ordinarily it has crew of 55.
The 700 m2 cargo deck can carry approximately 3,000 tonnes of cargo and is equipped with two 50 tonne electro-hydraulic cranes. Moreover, main and auxiliary towing winches are capable of a pulling capacity of 120 tonnes and 25 tonnes.
The reports of an attack, of course, was yet more fake news emanating from “Ukrainian Sources”.
Whilst I understand the need for propaganda in this war, stories such as these do not help with the Russian’s denial of any sort of atrocities etc. They can just prove stories such as these are fake, and therefore say all the others are too. Moreover, there is no real need to do it – the Ukrainians are causing enough damage as it is, there’s no need to make any up.
Regardless, it was another “story” I didn’t believe in the first place.
Whilst Bobrov is operational in the Black Sea, the “Ukrainian sources” provided even less information than normal – there wasn’t even an attempt at a fake video.
Therefore, it was just a case of sitting back and waiting for the ship to arrive in Sevastopol. And sure enough, it did!
Images of Bobrov alongside at Sevastopol on 14 May 2022 were made available on Twitter the same day. The images themselves were taken from a Telegram account, Black Sea Fleet, and clearly show no damage whatsoever to Bobrov.
If anything it is near mint condition.
On closer inspection, it can be seen that a Pantsir-S (NATO SA-22 Greyhound) self-propelled surface to air gun and missile system is located between the two cranes. One of the access hatches is open, and a Z can been seen drawn on the side.
Whether the AD system is there for the ship’s own protection or was part of a cargo is not known. However, satellite imagery shown to me which I cannot show here has the system moved to the stern of the ship. This does make it look like the system is there to protect the ship – it doesn’t have any in normal circumstances.
How useful the AD system would be is anyone’s guess and is probably more for show than anything else – or at least to make the crew feel safe. The height of the cranes to the side, and the main structure of the ship forward, would make it extremely hard to defend any attacks from these directions – unless they were directly, or near directly, above.
This is possibly a trend though. The Project 02690 class floating crane that was at Snake Island on 12 May 2022 – now departed the area – also had an AD unit on its deck. It is not known though whether this was later offloaded to the island or not.
I’m sure further evidence will be made available on whether the use of mobile AD systems is a thing or not with Russian navy ships not equipped with built-in systems..
Despite heavy losses at Snake Island, Russian forces continue to operate at the island.
Imagery made available by Maxar shows a Project 02690 class floating crane operating at the island’s harbour – along with a Project 11770 Serna class landing craft.
The theory on social media is that the floating crane is there to recover the sunk Serna class landing craft. This is probably unlikely as in theory the weight of the ship and its cargo (likely one of the 9K331M Tor-M2 family of SAM systems) combined with the sea would take the lifting weight outside of that capable by the crane – **See below for update**
Two options are more likely. Either to recover the 9K331M Tor-M2; or to be used to transfer cargo from other ships to – or from – the island.
It is a risky operation. The floating cranes are not very maneuverable or fast. Their average speed is 6 kts.
Further imagery of the area shows another Serna class operating close to the island. Some thought “clouds” near the ship were smoke trails from Ukrainian missiles attacking the ship. This isn’t the case and it is possible the ship is dispensing smoke to try and cover/protect the operations taking place at the island.
This is clearly failing.
Getting back to the crane and the image of it operating off the harbour jetty.
There is a possibly a 9K331M Tor-M2 is on the deck. More of these have been located on the island so it does appear the crane has either assisted in, or transported, these. How long they last is another question?
Through analysis of satellite imagery from Capella Space and Sentinel, and in conjunction with historic AIS data from FleetMon, it is likely the floating crane is SPK-54150.
Capella SAR imagery dated 11 May 2022 shows a floating crane in the Pivdenna Bay area of Sevastopol.
A colour, low resolution image from sentinel for the same day shows the floating crane – the yellow colour of the crane is clearly visible.
A search of AIS data in FleetMon for the two known floating cranes operating for the Black Sea Fleet – SPK-54150 and SPK-46150 – produced an outcome for both.
SPK-54150 was last “heard” on 10 May 2022 tracking Northwest at 6 kts, not far from Karadzhyns’ka bay. I have access to S-AIS from FleetMon so this last heard means the ship switched off its AIS at this time – the data list confirms it was transmitting via Satellite.
On the other hand, the AIS for SPK-46150 was last heard on 26 March 2022. It does appear to have stayed here since then – or been operational but not used its AIS and returned to the same spot each time.
From this data then, we can conclude the floating crane is likely to be SPK-54150.
As previously mentioned, the use of the floating cranes shows a certain desperation with the Russian forces to maintain a presence on Snake Island.
It really does appear they want to stay there, no matter the risks and potential costs.
Eventually, the floating crane did recover the Serna class from the harbour. A pretty good job too as this – as I stated above – would have been at the edges of the cranes capabilities. Not known is wether it recovered the “cargo” first.