A Russian intelligence ship sank off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea on Thursday after colliding with a civilian vessel ferrying livestock.  All 78 members of the Russian crew were safety evacuated from the vessel before it sank, Turkish Coastal Safety authorities said.

According to reports, the Russian intelligence gathering vessel, identified as the Liman, struck the Youzarsif H, a Togo-flagged ship used to transport livestock, as it traversed the Black Sea near the Turkish coast, just north of Istanbul.  The incident is said to have been caused by heavy fog and low visibility.

Immediately upon receiving reports of the incident, Turkish coastal authorities dispatched a tugboat and three fast rescue vessels to aid in the evacuation.  According to local media reports, the Youzarsif H, which was carrying a payload of 8,800 sheep from Romania to Jordan, suffered minor damage to its bow but its crew escaped the incident unharmed.

Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a statement on Thursday confirming that their vessel had gone down, and verifying that all crew members were safely rescued by Turkish authorities are were awaiting transport to a Russian vessel.  According to local media, Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim, contacted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to express his “sadness” over the mishap.

According to Russian-owned media outlets, the Liman was first deployed to the Black Sea in 2016 to monitor the joint Operation Sea Breeze exercises that saw participation from several NATO countries, including the United States, as well as Ukraine.  At the time, Russian officials complained that the military exercises were “provocative” in nature.

The ship has also seen deployments to the Mediterranean Sea recently in support of Russia’s ongoing military operations on behalf of Bashar al Assad’s Syrian government.  The ultimate destination of the Liman at the time of its sinking has not been revealed by Russian authorities at this time.

Similar Russian intelligence vessels have been spotted off the coast of the United States as recently as March of this year.  The Viktor Leonov, a Vishnya Class intelligence vessel that is nearly three times the size of the Liman and significantly more advanced traveled up and down America’s east coast in February and March, coming within 17 miles of shore at some points and loitering around American Submarine bases in both Groton, Connecticut and King’s Bay, Georgia.

The Liman was one of eleven active Moma Class surveillance vessels employed by the Russian Navy.  A “hydrographic survey vessel,” the Liman was designed to be equipped with a variety of intelligence systems that can be used for things ranging from aquatic research to long distance surveillance.  Its standard displacement is 1,200 tons, less than half that of the 2,418 ton Youzarsif H it collided with.

First built in Poland in 1970, the Liman was converted and re-christened for Russian military use in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union.  It is believed that the ship was equipped with an array of systems used to capture communications transmissions via a variety of sensors dating back to the Soviet era that have been retrofitted to the ship.

The Liman is usually crewed with fifty or so Russian Navy personnel and is capable of reaching an estimated 17.3 knots at full tilt using dual 1,800 horsepower diesel engines.


Image courtesy of Reuters