The Admiral Nakhimov Disaster
By James Donahue
The 66-year-old Russian liner Admiral Nakhimov had a long and active history on the high
seas before it was sunk in a collision with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasey in Tsemes Bay, in the Black Sea, on Aug. 31, 1986.
A total of 423 of the 1,234 people on board perished in the disaster.
The liner, Captain Vadim Markov in command, had just sailed from Novorossiysk with 888
passengers and 346 crew members, on what was to have been a trip to Sochi, Russia when it was rammed broadside by the 18,605-ton
freighter about two miles off shore.
The collision occurred at about 11 p.m. on a clear night, when the lights of both vessels
were clearly visible to one another. In fact the pilots of both ships were in communication with each other about the possibility
of their passing too close. Unfortunately, after being assured that the two vessels would steer clear, turned the bridge over
to his second mate, Alexander Chudnovsky and retired to his cabin.
For some reason, known only to the men on the bridges of those two ships that night, they
collided anyway. The bow of the Pyotr Vasey struck the Admiral Nakhimov amidships, tearing a hole between the engine and boiler
rooms. The ship’s lights went out upon impact, leaving passengers caught below deck in total darkness. Because the bulkheads
had been removed during past renovations, the old liner went over on her starboard side and foundered within 15 minutes.
Even though the Pyotr Vasey remained on the scene to pick up survivors, and other vessels
arrived on the scene within minutes, there was a heavy loss of life. The speed at which the liner sank left no time to launch
lifeboats. Many passengers were left trapped and confused in the darkness below deck. Hundreds jumped into the water clinging
to lifejackets and flotsam to await rescue.
During the investigation that followed, both Captain Markov and Captain Tkachenko of the
Pyotr Vasey were found guilty of criminal negligence and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The Admiral Nakhimov was launched in Germany as the Berlin III in 1925. The 572-foot-long
ship was designed as a passenger and freight carrier and operated a regular route between Germany, England and the United
States until 1939.
On November 12, 1928, the Berlin rescued passengers and crew of the ill-fated liner Vestris
that sank off the coast of Virginia. An estimated 113 people died in that disaster.
The Berlin was chartered by the Nazis in 1939 and converted for use as a hospital ship
and troop transport during World War II. In January, 1945, while in convoy, the Berlin hit a mine and was beached on the Soviet
coast. The ship was abandoned by the Germans, but later salvaged by the Soviets in 1949. This was when it was rebuilt as a
liner and given the name Admiral Nakhimov, a Russian naval commander who played a major role in the Crimean War.
In 1962 and during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the ship was used to transport soldiers to
At the time of its sinking, the Admiral Nakhimov was making regular six-day cruises on
the Black Sea between Odessa and Batumi.