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Soviet Union

Initial Developments

Between the early 1920s, when the Soviet regime consolidated its power, and the end of the 1950s, when the merchant marine and ports had recovered from the damage of World War II, the Soviet merchant fleet ranked well below those of the major seafaring nations of the world. In the 1960s, however, new economic and political realities caused the Soviet Union to dramatically expand its merchant fleet, ports, shipyards, and related facilities. First, the regime decided to expand its foreign trade, and thus its influence, with the growing number of newly independent African and Asian nations. Second, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the widening conflict in Vietnam with Soviet support for Hanoi, and the relationship with China demonstrated the need for a merchant fleet ready to respond to foreign policy and military requirements. For example, in 1960 Soviet merchant ships carried 45 million tons of freight, but by 1965 they carried more than double the tonnage, almost 92 million tons, and two years later, in 1967, they transported nearly 141.5 million tons of freight. In terms of units and tonnage, the merchant fleet went from 590 ships of 3.3 million deadweight tons in 1959 to 990 vessels of 8 million deadweight tons in 1965, thereby rising from twelfth to sixth rank in merchant fleets of the world. The new freighters ranged from 9,000 to 13,500 deadweight tons and were acquired from domestic as well as East German, Polish, Yugoslav, and Finnish shipyards.

The 1970s saw a continued expansion of the merchant fleet, but the vessels put into operation were generally specialized types that had been introduced by Western shipowners in the second half of the 1960s: container carriers, roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO), lighter-aboard-ship (LASH), roll-on/float-off (RO/FLO), RO/RO- container carriers, very large crude carriers (VLCC), and very large bulk carriers (VLBC). They were put into service on expanding lines to the Americas, including the Great Lakes, and to Asia, Africa, and Australia. New Soviet ports and shore installations capable of handling these ships were built or expanded (see fig. 21). Between 1970 and 1980, the number of freight and passenger vessels grew from about 1,400 to 1,725, while their collective tonnage went from almost 12 million to almost 19 million deadweight tons.

In the 1980s, the Soviet merchant marine continued to expand, although at a less frenetic pace than before. By the end of 1985, the merchant marine had 1,741 freight-carrying vessels, of which 290 were tankers, reaching a total of about 20 million deadweight tons. The main types of cargo ships were general and bulk cargo freighters, multipurpose freighters, container ships, timber carriers and wood waste carriers, bulk carriers, ore-bulk-ore (ORO) carriers, various tankers, refrigerator ships, and RO/RO, RO-FLO, and LASH vessels.

Data as of May 1989