Ships 2

Admiral Nakhimov

Ships 3


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 Cuba.


At the time of its sinking, the Admiral Nakhimov was making regular six-day cruises on the Black Sea between Odessa and Batumi.