Sevastopol imagery 7 June 2022

Another imagery update of Sevastopol provided by Capella, this time dated 7 June 2022.

Not too many changes but there is one strange occurance.

Overall, most of the Russian navy ships remain the same. On the north side of the bay, a couple of civilian merchant vessels were collecting grain/wheat from the terminal. Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-54150 had been operational on the southern side but was back next to the grain terminal at the time of the collection.

The remaining ships are same as those in the 31 May 2022 update – except one Project 1239 Dergach class had departed on 5 June 2022.

On the south side in Pivdenna Bay, very little change. Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-46150 was present but had been operational – to then depart a few days later on 8 June 2022 (more on this later).

The submarine pen was open and one Kilo class SSK was no longer present. This was to be found in the maintenance bay 2 km northeast of Pivdenna, on the south side of Sevastopol Bay.

Even stranger was that, along with the Capella imagery here, others showed the Kilo balancing on the deck of a small floating crane. @GrangerE04117 on Twitter concluded it was Project 877V Alrosa – which I agree with.

The remaining Kilo in Pivdenna Bay was confirmed later on by @Capt_Navy

Alrosa balancing on the deck of the floating crane in such a way is something I haven’t seen before. There are floating docks available, but these are in use. Moreover, potentially this method is a faster way of carrying out the work they need to do on the Kilo. How they got it up on the deck is another question!

SPK-46150 left at 1205 UTC on 8 June 2022, probably for Snake Island. The Floating crane had two Tor-M on its deck. The last position on S-AIS came in at 1422 UTC, northwest of Sevastopol. It appears to be following the same route SPK-54150 took previously, so at 6 knots would take approximately 22 hours from that position to reach Snake Island. A rough ETA would be 1230 UTC on 9 June 2022 if it isn’t there already.

SPK-46150‘s activities prior to departing Sevastopol

The use of the Floating cranes as a Tor-M delivery method to Snake Island is certainly a strange one. I said on a Twitter thread that it may be a “one ship fits all” reasoning, rather than using small landing craft or other vessels that may then need a crane to lift the SAM systems onto the jetty. I can’t see any other reason why they’d do it. Unless there are issues with using the Serna class ships at the ramp at the harbour?

It’s certainly a big risk. As I said on the thread. It’s just an idea as to why they might be using the floating cranes but “I’m not saying they’re correct in their methods“.

Sevastopol Imagery 31 May 2022

An early morning collection by Capella Space of Sevastopol on 31 May 2022 showed that Project 02690 Floating crane SPK-54150 was possibly back at the base. It had recently been spotted at Snake Island in imagery from Maxar and Planet.

It can be confirmed that the crane is certainly not SPK-46150 as this has been operational all day on the south side of Sevastopol bay according to AIS data from FleetMon.

Also present was a single Project 11356M Admiral Grigorovich class FFGH, two Project 1135 Krivak class FFMs and several Project 775 Ropucha class LSTMs.

Two Kilo class SSKs are in the submarine pen, whilst two Project 1239 Dergach class PGGJMs are north side – these are Bora (615) and Samum (616) though identifying which is which is not possible. SPK-46150 was still at its mooring at the time of the pass.

One of the Dergach class was captured on video in the last few days, though again, with no pennant/hull number, it can not be identified.

AIS data from FleetMon shows SPK-46150 has been active on the south side of Sevastopol Bay most of the morning of 31 May 2022

Project 02690 class floating crane SPK-54150 returns to Snake Island

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.

Low resolution imagery from Planet shows Project 02690 class floating crane at Snake Island Harbour on 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.

Vsevolod Bobrov – More fake news

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.

Pantsir-S highlighted in image provided by Telegram account – Black Sea Fleet

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..

Snake Island – further activity

**Updated**

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.

Maxar imagery showing Project 02690 class floating crane operating at Snake Island harbour. The wreck of the Project 11770 Serna class landing craft can be clearly seen, still carrying its cargo. A further Serna class is at the landing slipway, with its ramp lowered.

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.

Data from FleetMon shows SPK-54150 was using S-AIS from the symbol at the end of each line

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.

**Update**

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.

The Snake Island attacks – Part Two

In my last blog, I tried to highlight the issues with analysing imagery and videos with only half a story.

I also tried to draw the attention to how fake videos can make one look at others with a lot of doubt as to whether they are real or not.

I concluded that more evidence was needed – in particular high resolution imagery from Maxar or Planet.

The good news is, that not long after the blog was posted, I was anonymously sent an image dated 7th May 2022 taken from either Maxar or Planet – the source didn’t say.

This clearly showed the wreck of the Project 11770 Serna class landing craft in the Snake Island harbour. It also showed the concrete blocks I wanted to see. This was useful as had the image been collected from before the attack, and there been no wreck, then at least the location was pretty much confirmed.

Even the blocks would have been enough then to conclude that the video was legitimate.

It wasn’t long after I received the image that it was published by AP, and shown on Twitter.

For those that don’t have Twitter access – Jon’s account is locked – here’s the image.

I also received a notification from a friend, Scott Tilley – well worth following on Twitter if you don’t. His satellite tracking capabilities and knowledge is fantastic.

His notification pointed me to a website that contained photographs of Snake Island – some of which depicted the concrete blocks used as the sea defences. A great find – and one that had slipped through my rushed searches.

So, hopefully this shows how information can take it’s time to get through to carry out a full analysis.

There’s reasons why the Intelligence services take their time over gathering data on incidents such as this.

Now, as further videos are coming through thick and fast of attacks on Snake Island, more confidence can be had over their legitimacy.

The wingman in this attack is probably very lucky not to have been taken out by the explosion created by the flight leader.

One has to question why the Russian forces are intent in staying at Snake Island. Their losses, I’d say, are greater than those taken by Ukraine.

My friend Capt(N) provided some information on the island in a recent Twitter thread. I’ve taken screenshots here as, again, not everyone uses Twitter.

The thread can be read here.

The Snake Island attacks – Part One

Whilst there is no doubt there have been several attacks on Russian equipment on Snake Island, in the last few days, some dubious video footage has been “leaked” on Twitter showing Russian ships under attack.

These videos do put into question those that do appear to be genuine.

For example, yesterdays – 6/5/22 – “news” that Project 11356M Admiral Grigorovich class FFGH Admiral Makarov was struck by multiple Neptune missiles immediately reminded me of the same claim against Project 22160 Corvette Vasily Bykov at the beginning of March, be it with MLRS weapons rather than the Neptune missiles.

I personally wasn’t convinced about the Makarov attack, and once further ridiculous Tweets materialised using ADSB data from FlightRadar24 (FR24) showing NATO aircraft “monitoring the situation” as proof that “something was going on” – well, I definitely didn’t believe it.

This is just poor “analysis” by people who haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about and should just not bother saying anything. Two examples below.

Unfortunately, the Ukraine war has brought out a substantial number of idiots that are suddenly “experts” in warfare, aircraft tracking, ship tracking and satellite imagery analysis. In reality, they are just plain fools.

And as Ben Kenobi says in Star Wars – “Who’s the more foolish? The fool or the fool that follows him?”

This is the problem with social media. These people have a “show” that they’re experts, and then they get thousands of followers that believe everything they come up with.

Personally, I don’t trust anyone with OSINT in the username.

This idiocy was highlighted when a video appeared, apparently from a TB2, showing Admiral Makarov on fire. This was clearly fake and taken from a video game – later identified as ARMA 3. One account on Twitter was able to recreate pretty much the same “video” in a matter of minutes.

So, whilst evidence of attacks are a good thing to have to assess whether losses have been taken or not – fake videos tend to sway people in the other direction.

Going back a few days, I believed the Project 03160 Raptor fast patrol boat attacks video from the 2nd of May – but the above now has me thinking otherwise. I did find it a little strange that the second Raptor hung around the area for so long, and didn’t really make much attempt to evade a potential strike. This highlights the problems with creating fake videos for propaganda – once one fake video appears, it makes others seem fake too – whether they are not.

Todays video of the Project 11770 Serna class landing craft being attacked at the Snake Island harbour area certainly got my “fake video” senses twitching when I saw it. Mainly because, by sheer coincidence, I’d obtained imagery of Snake Island from Capella Space, collected on the 4th May, and I’d taken a good look at the harbour area to search for any evidence of ship activity there.

Coupled with the potential fake videos from previous “attacks” one can start to see inconsistencies in this video.

One thing – I always say this regarding my analysis work – I can’t always be right. I like to be, and I take my time on it, but errors will creep in every now and again.

So let’s look at what I see in the imagery versus the video and I can lay my cards on the table with my thoughts – and as always, I’m open to any comments.

First of all, one link to the video on Twitter. It is also available on YouTube I believe.

A number things immediately grabbed my attention. It is visible even in the Twitter image above. All those blocks of squares and rectangles. They look like CGI – too perfect. That area gets pummelled by the sea most of the time. Granted, they could be containers just dumped into the sea, but I’m not convinced at this.

Also, the ramp to the sea looks too perfect – very straight lines, no sea lapping over it. The wall that runs along it, into the sea, is new.

Let’s look at some close-ups from the video.

This one above shows yet more blocks east of the ramp, and strange grooves, much like seating areas. No sea lapping over them.

The next two shows the same area from nearly directly above. Note the near perfect lines of the walls, and more importantly, these blocks again. What are they? Not containers. Maybe concrete block sea defences??

The next image gives an overall view of the harbour area. Note the blocks again, and the coastline itself.

Now let’s look at the Capella imagery.

Whilst not perfect – typically the worst part of the imagery is the harbour – the blocks in theory would stand out. There doesn’t appear to be any. The quality is enough to show the jaggedness of the rocks along the coast, but not much else. There does not appear to be a wall out to sea along the ramp – but this is inconclusive in this imagery.

We can move onto some hi-res imagery from Maxar, though I’m afraid to say I have no contract with them and so I have had to use images from elsewhere. Ideally, we could do with someone that does have a Maxar account – or Maxar themselves – to provide us with the high-res imagery.

The first is taken from a CNN article dated 14th March 2022 and states the image was collected on the 13th. I’ve had to zoom in a little for the screen grab.

Not ideal quality, but does it look like there’s been much of an upgrade to the harbour area? It doesn’t look like there has been. It’s hard to determine whether there are any blocks there.

The following image is reportedly from Planet, collected in the last few days, and published by Associated Press – AP. Whilst I couldn’t find a direct link, there’s plenty out there – for instance.

Moreover, searching in the Maxar archive, there has been a collection on 7th May 2022 which shows smoke coming from the building as shown above, just on the left edge. Note also the ship activity to the west of the island.

With these two images nearly aligning, we can conclude that the top image is very recent.

In my view, whilst there are small buildings near the harbour, one of which in the area east of the ramp – there appears to be no large blocks present. The wall into the sea by the ramp does appear to be present, but hard to determine whether it matches that in the video. It is still too hard to conclude from the imagery currently available whether the blocks are there or not.

Ideally now, then, we need that hi-res imagery that Maxar clearly has (note they’ve redacted the archive imagery of the island). Then we can put this one to bed once and for all.

Analysis isn’t just about seeing what is immediately in front of you. It is much, much deeper than that. Below sums it up nicely.

Just because it looks like Snake Island harbour in the video, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. You have to look at more than just the shape and the jetty.

Ironically, one proven event – the sinking of Moskva – is still to produce any video evidence that a missile attack led to its demise.

Say of that, what you want.

Full analysis of the sinking of Liman

With it being a month this weekend since the Russian navy Moma-class AGI Liman was hit by another ship resulting in its sinking in the Black Sea, I thought I’d publish my full analysis on the incident.

Originally this work was created for Jane’s Intelligence Review, but due to space limitations in the magazine, it was condensed into a half page report. This blog includes all the imagery and extra text that was left out, but also some further analysis that I’ve been able to do in the mean-time. Because of this, I must state that the analysis published here has nothing to do with any IHS publication, and that any views (unless otherwise stated) are all my own.

Liman, taken in November 2015 by Yörük Işık

A brief account of what happened

On the morning of Thursday 27th April 2017, at approximately 0830z, reports on social network starting coming in that Moma-class Intelligence gathering ship Liman of the Russian navy had collided with a livestock ship in the Black Sea at a position approximately 30nm to the North of the entrance of the Bosporus Strait. There was thick fog in the area at the time of the incident.

Early information from the Russian Defence Ministry stated that Liman had collided with a ship named Ashot-7 but a search through ship registries quickly showed that this ship did not exist. From AIS analysis however, a ship identified as Youzar Sif.H had departed the port of Midia in Romania for Aqaba in Jordon at approximately 1645z on the 26th April heading for the entrance of the Bosporus Strait. The ship was carrying livestock, reportedly sheep. From the AIS data it was noted that Youzar Sif.H was cruising at a speed of 11 knots for most of the journey across the Black Sea until at 0845z on the 27th April the ship came to a sudden stop. It is here that the two ships collided.

Liman was operating without any form of AIS at the time, despite being in thick fog – it is likely not to have had the system installed. To this date, the Russian Defence Ministry, has not reported what tasks Liman was carrying out but it is known that it wasn’t due to pass through the Bosporus Strait.

The collision holed Liman below the waterline which led the ship to starting to sink. Though most of the [up to] 85 crew members evacuated, it is known that some remained on board to, in the words of the Russian Defence Ministry, [remove] all special equipment, documentation, weapons and ammunition. [The] ship’s crew were evacuated to life-saving appliances, and then safely transported to the base of the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea.

Almost immediately following the reports of the incident, new Project 22870 Ocean-going Rescue Tug SB-739 was sent to the scene from the Black sea navy base in Sevastopol. SB-739 does carry AIS equipment and analysis of this shows that the ship departed at approximately 1030z on the 27th, arriving 20 hours later. SB-739 carries the latest ROV to be deployed to the Russian navy, the Marlin-350 made by Tetis-Pro. This ROV can operate up to depths of 350 metres, with charts of the incident area showing depths of between 50 and 100 metres.

It was noted at the time of the incident that a Russian flagged Civilian Survey ship Хезер Си (Heather Sea) had commenced operations approximately 20nm to the NW of the collision site. The final position where Liman supposedly sank has been reported on social media at 41.50N 28.95E, the area where Heather Sea was operating, but this is a long way for the Liman to have drifted prior to sinking. A good friend of mine intercepted a navigational warning sent out by the Turkish authorities on Navigational Telex (NAVTEX) stating the final sinking position as 41.30 24 N 028.57E and it is here that SB-739 positioned itself on arrival.

Youzar Sif.H rescued some of the Liman crew members, and it is believed that another Russian flagged cargo ship, Ulus Star, also took part in rescuing crew as AIS analysis shows the ship deviating from its course to the incident area, before continuing on through the Bosporus later on in the day. At one stage it rendezvoused with both Youzar Sif.H and a Turkish government tug, Kutarma-3, which was one of the Turkish SAR ships sent to the area.

AIS data combined into one image
1 – Youzar Sif.H cruising at 11kts at 0813 UTC 27 Apr 2017
2 – Youzar Sif.H technical stop/malfunction at 1854z having started to return to Midia
3 – SB-123 arrives at the incident site at 0615 UTC 28 Apr 2017
4 – Heather Sea stays on task throughout incident

Youzar Sif.H returned to Midia, whilst SB-739 remained on site. Another Russian research vessel, Project 11982 AGOR Seliger, broadcasting as a “Law Enforcement” vessel on AIS, joined SB-739 at the area where Liman sank on the 1st of May . Seliger carries a submersible vehicle which was used to examine the wreck of Liman. Further reports of two other ships arriving around the 10/11th of May were given. These were KIL-158, a Kashtan-class buoy tender that has lifting equipment capable to take weights of up to 130 tonnes and Epron, a Prut-class rescue tug which is used for diver operations.

With the arrival of KIL-158 and Epron, it is highly likely that the Russian reports that all equipment was evacuated before the sinking were false and that these ships were here to recover those items still left on board. In particular, recent images of Liman show it with a large SATCOM dome towards the stern. This will almost certainly have contained a dish used for a SATCOM system given a NATO codename “Punch Bowl”. This communicates with store and dump type satellites such as Strela, Raduga and Rodnik. Information is collated and stored within the system and transmitted when a satellite passes within range. The satellite stores the information and “dumps” the data once in range of an appropriate ground-station. It would not have been possible to remove this system from the deck quickly and it is likely it went down with the ship.

With the final result of this incident being a lost ship, luckily with no loss of life , it highlights why the requirement of AIS on all shipping, even military, should be mandatory, especially in areas of high intensity traffic such as the Bosporus Strait.

What happened next….

There quickly followed a media frenzy of accusations and denials.

Russian media accused the Turkish government of sending divers to the wreck within an hour of Liman sinking and stealing all the equipment left on board – this is despite publishing on the same day how all the equipment had been recovered by the heroic crew of Liman. It is totally unlikely that the Turks had managed such a feat. Apart from the fact that it is dangerous to be diving on a wreck that soon after it has sunk, as shown by the ships needed by the Russians to do the actual task of recovery, the Turks sent nothing of the sort to the area. In fact, they did a great job of assisting a ship in distress.

Close-up of Youzar Sif.H’s track following the collision. The grey ship is Kutarma-3, which stayed to assist the sinking Liman.

The Russians then accused the crew of Youzar Sif.H of operating their ship dangerously in conditions that were unsuitable for a speed of 11 knots, including suggestions that the crew were drunk. Of course, they said nothing of the fact that their own ship was operating clandestinely (be it in open sea and legally) without the safety net of AIS equipment. The Russian navy is currently trying to sue the operating company of Youzar Sif.H for the loss of Liman.

Also of note was an interesting statement by Captain Vladimir Tryapichnikov, the head of naval shipbuilding, at the recent launch of the second Project 18280 AGI Ivan Khurs on May 16th. He alluded to the fact that Ivan Khurs would replace Liman in the Black Sea fleet, and that there would be a further two ships of the class built. His actual words were:
Let’s give the fleet the second ship, and then talk about the next two. Defence plans indicate that the Navy will receive them before 2025

This is almost likely to be false – on both counts. There has never been four ships planned and the replacement of Liman with Ivan Khurs would be a ridiculous waste of money. The Russian navy has a terrible funding problem, with not even enough projected funds available to build new Destroyers they have planned. They are also desperate for a new Aircraft carrier, but funding makes this highly unlikely; and they are seemingly already having problems funding the refit of Kuznetsov(orel)-class Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov which is about to begin. With this in mind, and other on-going funding problems with frontline ships and submarines, it is very unlikely they will put aside any cash for two more AGI’s.

Further more, the Project 18280 AGI’s are not designed for operations in areas such as the Black Sea, but more for in areas further from Russian shores such as off the East coast of the USA – for example, those tasks carried out by Project 864 Vishnya-class AGI Viktor Leonov which is often operating near to Cape Canaveral and the USN Naval Submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia. If Liman were to be replaced by anything it is more likely to be by one of the remaining Project 861 Moma-class AGS Survey/Research ships that the AGI versions were converted from. This makes even more sense if equipment was rescued before the ship sank as it would be an easy fit. My analysis of Liman makes me think it wasn’t a fully converted AGI as it still retained the crane on the forward deck, which other AGI’s had removed and that the AGS’s retain. This to me shows that not much structural work would be needed to get a quick replacement available – and at not much cost.

Liman, taken again by Yörük Işık, but this time in October 2016. Now the ship has the “Punch Bowl” SATCOM dome at the stern.

The statement by Tryapichnikov was more than likely a face saving one following the sinking of Liman and I totally expect Ivan Khurs to eventually end up with the Pacific fleet as planned. It may, however, first make a trip to the Black sea/Mediterranean to prove some sort of point.

Ironically, exactly one month later, Youzar Sif.H anchored to North West of the Bosporus awaiting its turn to transit through, having left Midia on the 26th May. It did so on the 28th, it’s destination this time is Misrata.

Whilst then, the dust has settled on the actual incident itself, it did highlight some other points.

Social media and its self-professed experts

Now, we all kind of love Social media and the internet – we do, there’s no denying it. After all, I wouldn’t be here doing this, I wouldn’t have access to endless amounts of information, data and history at the click of a button. But, what I ALWAYS do is check, check and check my facts.

I know my stuff, but am I an expert? No, I would say I’m not. It would be a dishonour saying I am to those that are actually experts. For instance, despite being quoted as a Jane’s Fighting Ships correspondent in IHS publications, I still quite often ask for advice from the yearbooks editor. He is after all an ex Commander of Royal navy ships, NATO and the MOD – totalling over 30 years in the Royal navy. I’m, in reality, an Air Traffic Controller that has a high interest in the Russian navy because of my “hobby” of monitoring their ship HF frequencies. One thing, has effectively led to another.

What this incident has very much highlighted is just how quickly false information is put out to the World without any actual analysis before doing so.

Take the operations of Heather Sea. Many social media “experts” stated that Heather Sea was sent to the aid of Liman when in fact, from simple analysis of AIS information, it was obvious that the ship had departed Varna in Bulgaria at approximately 2030z on the 26th April – some 12 hours before the collision reportedly took place! Very clever of the Russians to know that the collision was going to happen and send a ship there, ready for it to take place! Moreover, Heather Sea remained on its task site for over a week, 20 to 30nm from the position of the collision – having arrived there at 1500z on 27th April, some 8 hours after the reports of the collision started to filter through. It is fitted with modern ROV’s and so would have been ideal to carry out rescue/recovery, but it didn’t. It had nothing to do with the rescue of the Liman and the “experts” had given out incorrect data and positions.

Other experts suggested, even betted, that the arrival of KIL-158 and Epron was so that Liman could be raised from the sea bed and taken back to base. This just shows sheer stupidity rather than any knowledge.

Epron taken by Yörük Işık

And then there are the “There is something highly suspicious about this incident” people of social media. They deny it, but they are similar to conspiracy theorists. And I say this because unless they carry out full analysis on what happened and look into every possibility, what they are stating as fact, is actually incomplete and cannot be relied upon. Their ignorance and stubbornness of just basic principles again shows them as being a theorist – and yet, they say they are an “expert” even when they are shown strong evidence that shows their thoughts as being wrong. Even worse is the fact that some get a social-media following that believes everything they say and that they are an expert – this leads them to believe even more so that what they are saying is correct, when it isn’t.

One ridiculous suggestion was that Liman was jamming the AIS frequencies with its operations. Firstly, why would it have only hampered Youzar Sif.H, as every other ship in the area at the time was perfectly ok; and secondly, it would be a very clever ship to be able to carry on its frequency jamming from the depths of the Black Sea as other ships, including Youzar Sif.H on its revisit this weekend, have been lost from AIS receivers – as shown later on.

Let’s get back to Liman then, and the events leading up to the collision.

There are people out there that have stated that Youzar Sif.H had drifted off-course or wasn’t on the standard route and had even switched off their AIS equipment to hide this. Firstly, there isn’t a set course for getting from Midia to the Bosporus – the ships can get there in whatever route they want to. The fact is though, that they are on a schedule and want to get there the quickest and cheapest way possible and so they will go direct.

The social media experts have concluded that Youzar Sif.H was off-course because they ran a quick look at the traffic density data available on MarineTraffic. Now this data is all well and good, but it has it’s faults. The main one is that the data is basic. It draws a line from one point to another, taken from position reports from AIS data – and if the there’s a gap of 100nm it will draw a line still between these points. In areas of no AIS receiver coverage these lines will still be drawn, but there’s no proof that the ship actually travelled this course. The same principle occurs with all other basic online AIS software providers, including AISLive provided by IHSMarkit.

Youzar Sif.H was tracked pretty well after departure and did deviate from the route shown on the traffic density maps, but only just. A few hours before the collision took place Youzar Sif.H was no longer tracked by any MarineTraffic or AISLive feed, until at 0813UTC when it appeared again. Not long after, the collision took place.

Because the ship was tracked fully after the collision it has been alluded to by some that the AIS system on Youzar Sif.H was switched off for a while, and was only put on again just before the collision. Now why would a ship carrying sheep do such a thing, especially in dangerous conditions such as fog? The ship had nothing to hide, and the likelihood of switching off the one thing that would help them from hitting another ship in such conditions is certainly unlikely. AIS is only useful if all ships carry it, and here Liman didn’t. No doubt there would have been a basic primary return on the radar of Youzar Sif.H but it may well have been too late by then. The cause was that Liman was operating in fog with no anti-collision system in place. To further add to the conspiracy theory, Youzar Sif.H was able to be tracked most of the way back to Midia.

Youzar Sif.H transiting the Bosporus on the 28th May 2017 taken by Alper Boler

I go back again to me saying that I’m not an expert, but I’ve listened to radio since I was around 13, especially Air Traffic Control. This led to my 28 year career in the RAF and Civil ATC. From this I’ve learnt about how radio waves travel. But am I an expert in this principle? No, I’m not. There are guys and girls out there that know a hell of a lot more about it than I do. Here’s the thing though. I know the basic principles.

A very basic and simple fact is that Very High Frequency (VHF) radio transmissions travel with a line of sight principle called the Radio Horizon. In other words, two antennas need to be “in sight” of each other to receive that which the other is sending. No, you don’t actually have to see the other one, but in theory you need to be able to – in most cases. There are other principles and phenomenon such as VHF Tropospheric Ducting which allows for radio waves to travel hundreds of miles, but even then they can skip the hundred miles in-between leaving a null zone.

Take ATC again. The higher an aircraft is, the more likely it is to receive a signal from the ground as the “line of sight” is better, though it does also rely on the power of the transmitter. The curvature of the Earth can stop this and does. As an example, at work we have difficulties sometimes with USAF C-130 Hercules aircraft that are operating at the furthest range of one of our transmitters when they are cruising at FL230/FL240 – the Earths curvature, along with where the antenna is placed on the airframe gets in the way. Two or three thousand feet higher and they would receive us. If flying towards the transmitter then this isn’t a problem as the aircraft will come over the horizon and within “sight” of the transmitter, but going away means that sometimes a relay is required from another aircraft.

The same goes for things such as Mode-S receivers widely available for tracking aircraft. They only have an optimal range before the amateur can no longer pick up traffic – actually, this applies to physical radars too hence why many countries have a large amount of them to cover the whole country, and further. Stick a mountain, or even just a small hill somewhere and the reception range will be reduced for aircraft “below the horizon”. There’s a reason why military aircraft fly at lowlevel.

A great page for showing the principle of VHF reception is on Neal Arundale’s AIS page where it has a graph showing the principle.

My Mode-S antenna is on the roof of the house and I get a range of about 250 miles for aircraft that are at a high altitude. Out to the east of me, less than a mile away, is a hill of around 300ft which means I tend to lose aircraft descending into Edinburgh for instance when they go through around 15000ft – yet 200 miles away I’m picking up traffic over the North Sea.

My AIS antenna is lower than this. And it is in the loft. I have great reception to the North/Northwest, yet to the Southwest it is dead for me. Why? Well, because the signal from any ships has to not only pass through three houses, it also has to get through the three foot thick, sandstone walls of the house. The signal is wiped out.

My AIS coverage taken from MarineTraffic. Very strong to the North, but poor to the SW

Add to that that I am only a few metres above sea level and it makes my Radio Horizon not very good. You see, taking into consideration Neals data, I quite often struggle to get a small fishing boat which is between me and a large oil tanker that is further away that I am receiving. This is because, more often than not, ships radio masts are at the tallest point on a ship and an oil tankers one will be near on 60 metres above the sea, whilst a fishing boat around 10m. An oil tanker is also likely to have a more powerful transmitter as the ships size means it can carry bigger equipment.

So, where am I going here with relation to the Liman incident?

As previously stated, it has been suggested that Youzar Sif.H had switched off its AIS system. But a simple look at coverage information available on MarineTraffic would show that the Black Sea has some patches that are not covered very well by AIS receivers. I always say this about things like AIS or Mode-S feeds – they are only as good as the information that is fed to them.

The image here shows the coverage from the two main receivers for the area approaching the Bosporus from the Black Sea from this afternoon – 29th May. The receiver to the NW is on a 90m high block of flats and the one at Istanbul is on a two storey building on a hill. They have a great range because of this height. But, nearly the entire area SE of Varna is blank. These receivers do not pick up anything. Now, these coverage maps, like the density ones, can be a little false because they only work because they’ve picked something up, so the darker areas that show a dense level of traffic here, could be lighter at another time due to a quieter day – and vice-versa. But I’ve been looking at these areas frequently since the incident to see if my conclusions are correct, and they have remained pretty much the same. Further north are a few more receivers, but except for one they rarely stretch far into the Black sea – in other words there is a reception black hole for the receivers that feed MarineTraffic and AISLive. It just so happens that Youzar Sif.H travelled through the black-hole on the day of the collision.

This image shows the coverage from the Elena Station in Bulgaria which has fantastic coverage of the Black Sea in this region, but even this has reception black holes, particularly on the Youzar Sif.H route.

The image below shows the reception plots of Youzar Sif.H on the 26/27th of April on AISLive

Whilst the image here shows the reception on the 26/27th of May. This one is in fact worse than the day of the collision! It went near 14 hours without being picked up by any AIS receiver that fed AISLive.

Not only does this happen to Youzar Sif.H, it happens to many other ships that travel the same route.

This is the reason why Youzar Sif.H was not picked up until just before the collision and not because of stupid reasons such as it had switched off its AIS or been jammed by the operations of Liman. In fact, it had its AIS on at all times and other ships within its Radio Horizon would have picked it up, just as it would have picked up the other ships.

Now, the conspiracy theorists will be saying ” Well, hang on, Youzar Sif.H was tracked very well following the incident”. Well yes it was, but there’s a couple of good reasons why. Firstly, the main antennas on Youzar Sif.H are at the back of the ship but it also appears that there is one at the front on the mast. Is this the AIS antenna? Whilst it is hard to see which one it would be, if it is the one at the front this would explain a lot. The average reception distances for the stations is interesting for the day of the incident. The Elena station showed an average of 112nm which actually nearly corresponds to the site of the collision, so this station was covering out to that area. The signal from Youzar Sif.H would fade as it travelled away from the receiver. But after the accident and it was heading back to Midia, the front of the ship would have been facing the receiver which could mean a better signal getting through. The fact that on its journey back to the area this weekend produced the same tracking results, if not worse, than the incident ones shows that Youzar Sif.H has problems with being tracked in certain areas.

The station on the flats at Burgas had an average range of 26nm and would have possibly covered the early part of the voyage too.

And the Istanbul receiver only had an average of 10nm – but again this is roughly where the collision took place, and of course, Youzar Sif.H was head on to the receiver.

At the end of the day, I doubt we’ll ever find out for sure what happened. But I can honestly say that I believe it was a pure accident, and the fact that no AIS data was received from Youzar Sif.H was down to the pure science of a lack of radio reception at the AIS receivers covering the area, rather than the switching off of the systems on the ship.

One thing is for sure though. Those people that insist on churning out information, data and theories need to be sure to get their facts right first; and they need to do some basic research on things that they are commenting on. Otherwise they just make themselves look like complete idiots.