The visit by the first Russian ship to call on South Africa in 200 years is over. The massive 26 000mt, 250m-long nuclear battlecruiser RFS Pyotr Velikiy set sail for east Africa at 5pm yesterday afternoon.
The ship is now headed to the Indian Ocean “to perform certain responsibilities,” according to its commander, Captain (2nd Rank) Felix Men’kov. His rank is equivalent to that of a SA Navy commander.
Men’kov says his ship may assist in anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, where the Russian Navy destroyer Admiral Vinogradov is already escorting merchant ships.
The ship`s commander adds that during the current deployment the Pyotr Velikiy has already passed through the Mediterranean Sea, across the Atlantic to Venezuela, then back across the Atlantic through the zero point of the earth (0 Lat/0 Lon). The ship is now in its third month of deployment.
Rear Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov, the commander of the Missile Ships Formation of the Northern Fleet noted at a press conference aboard the veritable floating fort that it was the first visit by a Russian naval vessel to SA in 200 years. He said the ship travelled from the northernmost oceans to the southernmost oceans on this trip.
On a personal note, he had come from “the snow and Polar night” and was “enjoying the summer with perfect wine” at the Cape. He also expressed the hope the Russian Navy will not to wait another 200 years to visit again.
SA Navy Flag Officer Fleet, R Adm “Rusty” Higgs said he had been delighted to welcome the ship Peter the Great. “The professionalism of the captain of the Peter the Great and the state of the ship is acknowledged by the SAN,” he said, adding the relationship between SA and Russia started in 1809 and a memorial in Simon`s Town commemorates 12 Russian sailors who lost their lives between 1809 and 1865.
“We are looking forward to exercises between the two navies when Peter the Great leaves port at 5pm this afternoon,` he further added. The two navies will conduct a “passage exercise” including helicopter drills while the Pyotr Velikiy sails up the SA coast.
“70% of the Earths surface is covered by water. Navies at sea face similar challenges (and therefore during training) focus on interoperability and working together at sea, including communications,” Higgs added.
“It is important to operate together as there may be a time when the SAN and Russian Navy may operate together or a SAN ship on the other side of the world may require assistance and Russia would be able to help.
Kasatonov also said his navy uses every opportunity “to be proactive with other navies”. He also said the ship`s escort to Venezuela and Cuba – the Udaloy-classdestroyerAdmiral Chabanenko, the supply ship Ivan Bubnov and the oceangoing salvage tug Nilokay Chirikin have returned to their home port at Severomorsk in the Arctic.
Asked whether the Pyotr Velikiy was a “dry” or “wet” ship, in other words whether it served alcohol, Men’kov said the crew received red wine with lunch, “served in little amounts”. Regulations stated that red wine can be provided to the crew of a nuclear vessel; it helps with the growth of red blood cells that helps combat the effects of radiation.
Editorial note: Both the SA and Russian navies insist this is the first visit by a Russian warship in 200 years. If so, it excludes the visit in 1997 of the RFS Nastoychivyy (pennant number 610) in 1997 for the SA Navy`s 75th birthday and then-President Nelson Mandela`s Naval Review. I was a reporter with Network Radio News at the time and privileged to attend the event and photograph the Sovremenny-class (Project 956 Sarych) surface-strike destroyer.
I`m also not satisfied with the “Kirov”-class “vital statistics” available on the Internet as they offer a confusion of detail regarding the ships armament. My edition of Chris Chant`s Warships Today, Silverdale Books, Wigston, Leicester, 2004, has the following:
Type: Large guided-missile cruiser
o Length: 252m
o Beam 28.5m
o Draught: 10m
· Displacement: 26 500mt full load
· Propulsion: two KN-3 PWR reactors and two steam boilers providing 102 900kW to two shafts.
· Speed: 30knots
o SSM: 20 P700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck)
o SAM: 12 octuple Fort (SA-N-6 Grumble) launchers, two Kinshal (SA-N-9 Gauntlet) octuple launchers with 128 missiles, two twin Osa-M (SA-N-4 Gecko) launchers with 40 missiles.
o Guns: one twin 130mm dual purpose
o CIWS: six Kashtan (CADS-N-1) combined gun-missile systems each featuring two six-barrelled 30mm AK630 cannon and two quadruple SA-N-11 Grison missile launchers with 24 reloads.
o ASW: one Rastrub (SS-N-14 Silex) twin ASW launcher with 16 missiles, one twin-barrelled RBU6000 and two RBU1000 rocket launchers, two quintuple 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes firing Type40 torpedoes, the Viyoga (SS-N-15) Starfish ASW missile or the Vodopod (SS-N-16 Stallion) torpedo-carrying missiles.
o Helicopters: Up to 5 Kamov Ka25 “Hormone” or Ka27 Helix
· Ship`s company: 727 (The Cape Times, 15 January, says 980)