The Russian Project 22010 intelligence ship Yantar docked in Cape Town for a week as part of a voyage around Africa.
Yantar arrived in Cape Town on 12 November after calling in Port Louis, Mauritius, and departed on 18 November. The vessel’s next port of call is Luanda, Angola, and is expected to arrive there on 27 November, according to ship tracking websites.
The vessel previously sailed through the Red Sea, around the Horn of Africa, in mid-October and to the Seychelles before reaching Mauritius and then Cape Town.
Yantar is described as an oceanographic research vessel, but is believed to be an espionage ship. It was designed by the Almaz Central Marine Design Bureau in St. Petersburg and built at the Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad. Delivered in May 2015, it is operated by the Russian Navy’s Main Directorate of Underwater Research, which is believed to be involved in Russian espionage activities.
According to the website Covert Shores, Yantar is equipped with two self-propelled deep-sea vehicles called Rus (AS-37) and Consul (AS-39), which can accommodate two to three crew and feature titanium pressure hulls – Consul has been tested to more than 6 000 metres below sea level. These are launched over the side of the ship from a large hangar. Remotely operated vehicles are launched from the stern of the vessel.
Yantar has been known to loiter near undersea communications cables, and, according to Covert Shores, is able to cut cables, tap undersea cables, remove other countries’ taps and investigate and recover objects of interest from the sea floor, such as crashed aircraft or test missiles. It is also able to assist with search and rescue work.
The New York Times notes that in September 2015 Yantar caused concern in the American military after it hovered around a major undersea cable off Cuba. More recently, the vessel was in the Mediterranean in early October in the vicinity of undersea cables, according to Covert Shores.
It is not clear what the purpose of Yantar’s voyage around Africa, but it should be pointed out that undersea communications cables generally follow established shipping routes and the vessel’s presence near these cables does not necessary mean it is tapping them.
Yantar has a displacement of 5 200 tons, a maximum speed of 15 knots, a range of 8 000 nautical miles, and can accommodate a crew of 60 members. The vessel is 108 metres long, 17 metres wide and has a draft of 5.9 metres.
Russia is building two more Project 22010 intelligence ships, with the second, Almaz, to be completed in 2019. Construction of the third will begin in 2020.