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Soviet Union

The Waterway System

In 1987 the Russian Republic's Ministry of the River Fleet and the main river transportation administrations of the other republics were, among them, responsible for the 122,500 kilometers of navigable rivers and man-made waterways. Soviet inland waterways are divided into four main categories by depth: super main line, with a guaranteed depth of four meters; main line, with at least 2.6 meters of depth; local, with up to 1.4 meters of depth; and small river, with a water depth of up to one meter. In the European part of the country, the Volga, Kama, Don, and Dnepr rivers and their reservoirs formed the 7,400-kilometer-long United Deep-Water Network. This network had thirty-six water reservoirs, ninety-two locks, and a "guaranteed depth" of four meters on 90 percent of its length. Although many tributaries of large rivers fall generally into the local and small river categories, they nevertheless contributed importantly to many regions' economies, and they represented about 55 percent of the navigable rivers in Siberia and the Far East.

The river fleet was composed of a wide variety of cargo and passenger vessels and special-purpose ships, such as tugs and icebreakers. Dry cargo river ships ranged from 150 to 5,000 tons in capacity, whereas oil barges ranged up to 9,000 tons. Barge sets, that is, motorized barges pushing one or more "dumb" barges, totaled up to 16,000 tons on Siberian rivers and up to 22,000 tons on the Volga-Kama waterways.

Among the ships, boats, and motorized and "dumb" barges were specialized vessels designed to carry fruit, grain, ore, cement, containers, automobiles, and refrigerated cargo. A variety of passenger vessels, including hydrofoils and air-cushion vehicles, had a passenger capacity from a few dozen to 1,000 people. In a special category were the river-ocean vessels, which included dry bulk carriers (2,700 to 3,000 tons) and liquid tankers (4,800 to 5,000 tons). They made possible direct shipments between domestic inland ports and some 300 maritime and river ports in twenty-six countries in Europe, North Africa, and Asia, including Iran and Japan, as well as Soviet ports on the Arctic Ocean. The fleet of tugboats, both pullers and pushers, the latter equipped with automatic couplers for barge trains, was well adapted to general and specialized operations, including towing huge timber rafts. The tugboats' engine power ranged from 110 kilowatts to 2,940 kilowatts.

All navigable rivers in the Soviet Union are affected by ice. Depending on the region, the yearly navigation season has been as short as 60 days on northern rivers and as long as 230 days on rivers in warmer climates. Icebreakers were therefore an essential component of the Soviet inland fleet in order to extend operations beyond the onset of ice. They were particularly important in the mouths of rivers flowing into the Arctic Ocean, where ice tended to accumulate because of differences between the thawing seasons of rivers and seas. Icebreakers also helped river vessels to reach their wintering ports before the end of the navigable season.

Data as of May 1989