May 18, 2014

Nikolay Chiker; harbinger of underwater operations?

Taking a brief stop from my usual posts about visiting Cold War sites, the formerly-Soviet supertug Nikolay Chiker is still captivating my interest; mostly because it's movements are so loudly broadcast on AIS and by morse code, and it's purpose is so unclear.  While it's exact mission isn't known, it isn't hiding where it's going, most of the time.  

Let me put it this way; if you saw a tow truck circle your block all night long, and not see anyone get towed, wouldn't you wonder what they were doing there?  There's nothing illegal about circling a city block on city roads; it's just unusual, and not what you'd expect.  

In this case, the Pentagon has reportedly stated they knew the Nikolay Chiker was present off the coast of the US, but gave no indication why or what it was doing.  There's nothing unusual about The Pentagon giving "no comment", but isn't it unusual they said anything at all?  I guess there were enough queries and media coverage that they had to say something.

I'm big on analogies; if you saw that same tow truck circle your block all night long, but it was a bus-sized heavy duty tow truck, wouldn't that make the scenario that much more out of place?  

The Nikolay Chiker did at one time hold the record for the most towing power of any tug, and it is still one of the most powerful.  It was travelling in circles off the coast of Georgia and Florida, then nipping back and forth to Oranjestad, Sint Eustatius and Curaçao, part of the Dutch Caribbean.  Why go so far to get a bite to eat or refuel?  It seems very ususual.  There was another Russian Naval vessel off the coast, and spooted near the Nikolay Chiker; the intelligence collection vessel Viktor Leonov.  Was the Nikolay Chiker just sent along to provide aid if the Viktor Leonov ran into difficulty?  Maybe, but why sail in the pattern it did, rather than tag along?  Why not dock in Havana for a few weeks, rather than sail around at all?  Well, like Liam Neeson, Nikolay Chiker has a very particular set of skills - I was unaware when I first started following its path that it was with two decompression chambers and equipment to allow sustained underwater operations up to 60 Meters.  When I thought of a salvage tug, I was only thinking of the towing or lifting, but this ship is a floating underwater operations facility, not just a tow truck.

I bet you're still not interested and think I'm losing my marbles; okay, I get that.  What if I also told you that in the tow truck analogy, the tow truck stopped in front of your house, and did thirty (30) three point turns?  Again, why?  

The Nikolay Chiker between April 16th ~1630Z and April 17th ~1200Z stopped off the coast of Florida and zig-zagged back and forth at very slow speed (0.5KT) for no known reason.  Well, it also stopped earlier on the morning of April 16th less than 1.5Km to the West of that position and did a bunch of turns and zig zags as well.  Was the Nikolay Chiker, with it's underwater sensor package, looking for something on the bottom of the ocean?


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Aggregating as much open source information as I could, I compiled the following specifications for the Nikolay Chiker and its twin.

Baklazhan (Project 5757) Class Tug

 
Ship Name No. IMO MSSI Fleet Launched Commissioned
Nicolay Chiker SB-131 8613334 273458540 Northern Fleet 1988-04-19 1989-04-12
Fotiy Krylov SB-135 8613346 273441150 Pacific Fleet 1988-09-09 1989-06-29


Built by Hollming Oy, Rauma, Finland
Keel Laid 1987

 
Standard Displacement 7417 tonnes (7299.9 (uk) t) (8175.8 t (short)) (7417000 kg)
Full Load 8128 tonnes (7999.6 (uk) t) (8959.6 t (short)) (8128000 kg)
Length
overall: 99.0 m
Beam
overall: 19.5 m (64.0 ft)
Draught
hull: 7.1 m (23.3 ft)
top speed: 18 kt (33.3 km/h) (20.7 mph)
Standard Range 11000 n miles (20372.0 km) (12658.6 miles) at 16 kt (29.6 km/h) (18.4 mph)
Machinery: 4 Wärtsilä Vasa 12V32 diesels; 24,160 hp(m) (17.76 MW); 2 shafts; controllable-pitch propellers; bow thruster; 1,360 hp(m) (1 MW)
Firepower: None
Complement: 51 plus 20 spare berths
Radars: 2 Nyada MR-212/201 Vaygach-U (NATO: Palm Frond) navigation radars; I-band
Cost: $50M ea

"Both ships constructed by Hollming, Rauma, Finland. Laid down in 1987 and entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1989. Under ownership of Russian company Sovfracht, operated by Greek company Tsavliris during the 1990s before returning to Russian naval service in about 2006. Both tugs are probably still available for commercial use. Equipped with three water cannons." -Jane's Fighting Ships

"Built by Hollming (Rauma), Helsinki and completed 12 April 1989. A second of class A Krylov SB 135 completed 30 June 1989 but was sold illegally to Greece in March 1993 and for a short time renamed Tsavliris Giant. These are the largest salvage tugs in the world with a 250 ton bollard pull on each of two towing winches with a third 60 ton winch. The
crew includes two divers and there are two decompression chambers. Four firefighting foam/water guns are fitted on the bridge/mast. Designed to operate in extreme temperatures. SB 131 is in the Northern Fleet." -Jane's Fighting Ships

"Rescue tug "Nikoli Chiker" was built in 1989 in Finland, commissioned by the Navy of the USSR. It was intended to be used primarily for towing large ships, ie, aircraft carriers, and conduct rescue operations. The construction of these two vessels, this one and the class leader the "Foty Krilov", cost the navy $ 50 million.
Immediately after construction during the tests, type "Fory Krylov" was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the vessel which can create the most powerful traction when towing. Power plant is 25, 000 horsepower. These characteristics, as well as design features allow it to tow vessels of up to 250 thousand tons at a rough sea at eight points at a speed of four knots. Performance still unrivaled.
Although by designation it is just a tug boat, even the most powerful in the world, this hides its other capabilities. This is a rescue complex. Installed on it is diving equipment which allows for complex deep-water work. It is equipped with a pressure chamber, dry suits, underwater cameras, the means to blur the ground, underwater welding and cutting, metal detectors. In addition to all tug capable apply for ships in distress flame retardant liquid, using their own equipment to extinguish fires. Helipad supports all-weather 24-hour operation of the helicopter with refueling. Fully equipped operating room and three wards." -Warfare.ru, Wikimapia

"The moored lifting power of these tugs is 230 tons. Each is equipped with diving equipment for depths of up to 60 meters (nearly 197 feet). The tugs are also equipped with two 8-ton capacity cranes. They are also equipped with water cannon.
Additional equipment includes a 3-ton capacity crane; two 32-ton salvage winches; two 10-ton salvage winches; two 150-ton towing winches; one 60-ton towing winch; two 400-ton cable/chain stoppers; a 250-ton bollard pull and a 441-pound transfer system for dry cargo and personnel.
HULL: These ships have a burly profile. The raked bow has a large-radius nose rimmed with a bulwark, a forecastle extending well aft, tall superstructure topped by a bridge with 360-deg visibility, paired stacks on the after corners of the superstructure and a low-freeboard stern with curved counter. The helicopter platform is forward of the bridge and can accept a medium helicopter.
The ships began service in the Soviet navy. Both were named in 1991. FOTIY KRYLOV was leased to a Greek commercial company in 1992 and renamed M/V GIANT, then renamed again as TSAVLIRIS GIANT. NICOLAY CHIKER also was leased to a Greek company. In 1995, both were returned for further service in the Russian navy." -MilitaryPeriscope.com

Credit:
Lloyd's Register - Fairplay's Internet Ships Register
Jane's Fighting Ships
MilitaryPeriscope.com
warfare.ru
Wikipedia


Frequent ShipSpotting.com contributor Cees Bustraan posted several photos that I couldn't help myself from pilfering.  VHF and HF antennas are clearly visible, so is the Radar, sat dome, life rafts, cranes, winches, and much more.

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 3rd, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 3rd, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 3rd, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 3rd, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Moored at the Motet Wharf Otrabanda Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 3rd, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Moored at the Motet Wharf Otrabanda Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 3rd, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 29th, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 29th, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 29th, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 29th, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arrival at Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 29th, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Arriving/Turning in Schottegat Harbour for berthing at the Admiral Brion Wharfs Willemstad,
Port of Curaçao (March 29th, 2014)
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

Moored at the Admiral Brion Wharf, Willemstad, Port of Curaçao (March 31st, 2014)
Photo taken from Tug Fairmouth Sherpa.
Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com

As perviously posted, here is a map of the ocations the Nikolay Chiker has been

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