A Russian military vessel, known to be a “spy ship,” sank in the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey Thursday, Russian and Turkish officials are saying. The Russian intelligence gathering ship, identified as the Liman, sustained a breach to its hull after colliding with a freighter just north of the city of Istanbul.
The Guardian reported that the Turkish Coast Guard has confirmed that Russian naval ship Liman, a craft stationed in Crimea and part of the Black Sea Fleet, was involved in a collision with a Togo-flagged freighter carrying livestock and subsequently began taking on water from a breach to the hull. Although personnel attempted to save the spy ship, it sank within three hours of the accident.
Russia’s defense ministry had confirmed earlier in the day that the Liman had acquired a hole during the incident, telling the Interfax news agency there were no casualties among the ship’s crew, who were “fighting to keep the boat in the water.”
All 78 sailors aboard the Liman were safely rescued, picked up by a Turkish rescue vessel, according to the Associated Press.
Reuters reported that advisers to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim extended a message of his sadness over the collision to his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, according to sources within the prime minister’s office.
Relations between the two nations have been strained for the past few years. The most recent source of friction has come from disputes regarding the Syrian civil war, where Russia has backed the sitting regime of President Bashar al-Asad, while Turkey has supported his ouster by Syrian rebels.
The Guardian further reported that shipping agent GAC had revealed that the Russian ship Liman and the other craft, identified by the agent as the Youzarsif H, ran into each other in foggy conditions with accompanying low visibility. The Youzarsif H was said to have been laden with livestock and to have sustained minor damage. Its crew was also reportedly without injuries.
A former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, told Interfax, according to BBC News, the event was “out of the ordinary.”
“There have been collisions but I do not remember a case like this, of a vessel, a warship sinking after it,” he said.
The Liman is a former research vessel that the Russian navy has retrofitted and refurbished into an intelligence reconnaissance ship. It is equipped with radio and sonar equipment to carry out its various missions. The spy ship had returned to the Black Sea from a stint in the Mediterranean Sea at the end of January.
In February and March, the nascent presidency of President Donald Trump was challenged with the appearance of a Russian spy ship along the U.S. East Coast, where it came within 17 miles of land at one point. Identified as the Viktor Leonov, the reconnaissance ship was an AGI (Auxiliary, General Intelligence) trawler that was outfitted with non-digital reconnaissance equipment.
Seen by many as a goad directed at the newly inaugurated president, Trump dismissed the spy ship as simply doing what reconnaissance ships do. Although the voyages made headline news, with endless speculation on the Russians’ motive and possible responses by the United States, the administration treated it commonplace and of no real concern to national security.
The Bosphorus, which slices through Istanbul, is one of the world’s most important waterways for maritime commerce, especially when the commodities are oil and grain. The 17-mile strait connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
The GAC shipping agency said that when the collision between the Russian ship and the freighter took place, the Bosphorus had already been closed to shipping due to poor visibility.
[Featured Image by Efrem Lukatsky/AP Images]