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Soviet Union

Fleet Operations

In an effort to attain the highest labor productivity and cost efficiency, maritime authorities embarked on a policy of standardization. For vessels, this meant standardization not only by mission and areas of operation but also by major components: engines, cargo-handling equipment, and electronics. The results were higher fuel efficiency, improved and more efficient repair and maintenance, increased cargo-carrying capacity (thus decreasing the relative per ton construction and operating costs), and increased speeds (thereby ensuring faster delivery and increased vessel productivity). New ship designs allowed speedier cargo handling and better space utilization and resulted in a higher carrying capacity per ship. Automation and mechanization of shipboard operations increased labor productivity. For instance, automated control devices enabled operation of a large cargo ship's engine room by one crewman.

Most seas adjoining the Soviet coastline, particularly the Arctic Ocean, the northern Pacific Ocean, and the Baltic Sea, have short navigable seasons. To keep the sea-lanes open and prolong the navigable season, a sizable and diversified fleet of ice-breaking vessels was required. The vessels ranged from small harbor tugicebreakers to large, nuclear-powered, oceangoing icebreakers, as well as Arctic freighters and tankers of up to 35,000 deadweight tons.

Arctic freighters were especially constructed with reinforced hulls, resembling those of icebreakers, to enable the ships to proceed through ice up to one meter thick. Arctic freighters' superstructures were protected against the severe weather to allow the crew to move from one part of the ship to another without being exposed to cold and ice. Deck de-icing equipment allowed them to operate at temperatures ofas low as -50°C.

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union had the world's largest passenger vessel fleet. One of its major tasks was to provide transportation to the Arctic and Far Eastern coastal areas, where ships were frequently the sole means of travel. Small vessels, such as hydrofoils seating about 120 passengers and reaching speeds up to forty kilometers per hour, operated in the coastal areas of the Baltic, Black, Azov, and Caspian seas. Old passenger liners, some built prior to World War II and acquired as war reparations, catered to foreign cruise clientele, generally in contiguous waters. Modern and well-equipped cruise ships, however, either were built expressly for Morflot in foreign yards, mainly in East Germany, or were built chiefly in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and Britain for Western cruise lines and were subsequently acquired by Morflot in the 1970s and 1980s. With cabin accommodations for 250 to 700 passengers, they catered to Western tourists and plied the world's oceans from the Norwegian fjords to the South Pacific islands. In the mid-1980s, Morflot's oceangoing passenger fleet numbered some eighty liners with a total of about 25,000 berths.

Morflot operated several major ferry lines, both international and domestic. In 1988 two important international train ferry lines were jointly operated, one with Bulgaria, the other with East Germany. The lines had been put into service to avoid transiting Romanian and Polish territory, respectively. The Soviet-Bulgarian ferry between Il'ichevsk and Varna began service in 1978. It has used two Soviet and two Bulgarian ships, each with a capacity for 108 seventy-ton freight cars on three decks. This line has shortened by six days the delivery time between the two countries.

In 1986 the Soviet-East German ferry service began between Klaipeda, in the Lithuanian Republic, and Mukran, on the island of Rügen in East Germany. When in full operation (scheduled for 1990), the line was to use six Mukran-class ferryboats, three belonging to each country. Each boat was designed to carry 103 freight cars of up to eight-four tons each that could roll on and off directly from the shore, thus reducing each boat's turnaround time to only four hours. The round trip between the two ports has taken only fortyeight hours. The annual peak capacity of the six ferries by 1990 was projected at 5 million tons. Since 1984 a Baltic automobile ferry has been operating between Leningrad and Stockholm.

Among the domestic routes were the Caspian Sea ferry lines, the Crimea-Caucasus lines, and the Sea of Japan line between Vanino and Kholmsk. Some automobile ferries in the Far East had trips lasting up to fifteen days and had cabin accommodations for 432 passengers.

The Soviet Union's freight and passenger fleets were supported in ports and at sea by a large diversified fleet of auxiliary craft. They included harbor and ocean tugs, oceangoing salvage and rescue vessels, fire boats, various service craft, and floating cranes, as well as civil engineering craft, such as dredges, used in the construction and maintenance of harbors and navigational channels.

In 1986 the Soviet Union had the world's largest oceangoing fishing fleet, comprising about 4,200 vessels under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Fishing Industry. Research and surveying ships numbered more than 200. They were for the most part not operated by Morflot but by various institutes of the Academy of Sciences (see Glossary) for oceanographic research and surveying, such as fisheries, marine biology, and oil and gas exploration. According to Western authorities, however, many of these ships were manned at least in part by naval crews and performed work for the Soviet Naval Forces. Usually, these were modern units outfitted with sophisticated equipment, including intelligence-gathering devices.

Most Soviet ports fell into one of three categories. General cargo ports handled a variety of break-bulk, container, RO/RO, LASH, or bulk cargo ships at the same type of pier. Specialized ports transloaded dry or liquid bulk cargo, such as ores, coal, grain, petroleum, and chemicals. They had automated transloading equipment suitable for a particular type of cargo. Major ports, and some smaller ones, had facilities and equipment to handle both types of ships.

The merchant fleet's cargo, passenger, and auxiliary vessels constituted an indispensable logistical component of the Soviet Naval Forces and provided the armed forces with strategic sealift capabilities. According to the United States Department of Defense, Morflot ships, particularly RO/RO, RO/FLO, LASH, and combination RO/RO-container ships, were fast, versatile, and capable of handling combat and combat support vehicles and equipment. Moreover, the majority were able to enter most of the world's harbors. LASH and RO/FLO ships were capable of unloading their cargo at sea and could thereby support amphibious operations. RO/ROs and container ships required minimally prepared shore facilities to discharge their cargo. Nearly half the cargo ships were equipped with cranes capable of lifting the heaviest military armor and vehicles, thereby reducing the dependence on prepared port facilities. Morflot's tankers and cargo vessels were also used for out-of-area refueling and replenishment of Soviet naval vessels operating far from home waters. Merchant ships were sometimes equipped with sophisticated communications and navigational devices, served as intelligence gatherers, and had protection against chemical, biological, and radiological hazards. According to some Western naval authorities, many Soviet merchant and fishing vessels possessed mine-laying capabilities. In the event of hostilities, the Morflot passenger fleet, with a total of about 25,000 berths in peacetime, was capable of transporting several times that number of troops into operational areas.

Data as of May 1989


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