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.
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.
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.