The Russian nuclear powered battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) has dropped anchor in Table Bay harbour to pay South Africa a goodwill visit.
The massive 26 000mt, 250m-long ship is on its way from Venezuela to India, where it is scheduled to carry out exercises with that country`s navy.
The Kirov-class battlecruiser – the only ship in the world to bear that designation today – is accompanied by the Udaloy-classanti-submarinedestroyer, the Admiral Chabanenko, a supply ship, the Ivan Bubnov and a oceangoing salvage tug Nilokay Chirikin.
However, only the Pyotr Velikiy has entered Table Bay.
SA Navy spokesman Commander Greyling van der Berg says the battlecruiser will be in port until tomorrow on an official goodwill visit and is “showing the flag”. The SA frigate, SAS Spioenkop last month returned from a similar three-month mission to China, Vietnam and Mauritius.
“The reason why navies do this is to bring a part of the home country to a foreign port. The ship represents the Russian Federation to the people of South Africa, to those who will not have the opportunity to visit Russia,” Van den Berg says.
“The Navy is the only Service of a defence force that can do that.”
Van den Berg says the visit by the massive, heavily armed vessel that some have described as a veritable floating fort is to build goodwill. It is not as a show-of-force. The ship is the largest vessel in any navy save for aircraft carriers.
The international media has described the visit of the Pyotr Velikiy battlegroup – dispatched with some urgency to Venezuela in September as a show-of-force in support of that country`s president, Hugo Chavez. It was the first deployment by the Russian Navy into Caribbean waters since the end of the cold war in 1990.
Navy sources say the SAN will conduct a passex (passage exercise) with the battlegroup when the Pyotr Velikiy leaves Cape Town. They note this is common when foreign naval vessels leave port after a visit.
The visit was nearly scotched when the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) declined to issue the ship a licence to close with the port. SA law requires the NNR to pre-approve all port visits by nuclear-powered vessels. As it was, the Pyotr Velikiy only received permission to enter harbour yesterday morning, the SAN assisting the Russian Federation Navy in that regard.
The original application submitted on 4 December 2008 gave the public 30 days to comment. However, the NNR found that certain legal requirements were still outstanding, including a certified safety assessment in connection with the docking of the ship, a comprehensive emergency plan in the event of a nuclear accident and the diplomatic note accepting strict liability for any nuclear damage.
Although the outstanding items were subsequently submitted, it is believed that the NNR wanted to renew the 30 day public comment period. This would have prevented the visit from taking place this week.
In a twist of good fortune for both navies, the NNR decided that the public comment window had been adequate and the licence was issued just in time.
Once in the Indian Ocean the Pyotr Velikiy surface group will join a task force from Russia’s Pacific Fleet to take part in INDRA-2009, a joint naval exercise with the Indian Navy.
According to Naval Technology the Pyotr Velikiy is a Kirov-class heavy missile cruise ship built by the Baltic Shipyard at St Petersburg. Four of the massive ships were built but only Admiral Nakhimov (commissioned in 1988) and Pyotr Velikiy (commissioned in 1995) remain active.
The ship’s propulsion system is based on a combination of nuclear power and steam turbine, with four nuclear reactors and two auxiliary boilers.
The Kirov Class is heavily armed. Missiles include 20 Granit (NATO designation SS-N-19 Shipwreck) long-range anti-ship missile systems, installed under the upper deck, and an S-300F air defence missile complex, with twelve launchers and 96 vertical launch air defence missiles. The ship is also equipped with the Osa-MA air defence missile system (two double launchers and 40 missiles).
The ship is further fitted with the Kashstan air-defence missile/gun system to provide defence against a range of precision weapons including anti-ship and anti-radar missiles and air bombs, aircraft, and small naval ships.
Guns include a 130mm AK-130 multipurpose twin-barrel gun and a 30mm AK-630 artillery system.
For antisubmarine warfare, the ship has ten torpedo tubes for 20 Vodopad-NK anti-submarine missiles or torpedoes. The ship has two anti-submarine and anti-torpedo rocket systems, the Udav-1 with 40 anti-submarine rockets and two RBU-1000 six barrelled mortars with 102 bombs.
The ship accommodates three Kamov Ka-27PL or Ka-25RT helicopters. The Kamov-27 (NATO codename Helix) is equipped for anti-submarine warfare.