Russian news sources are reporting January 26, 2017 that President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian Ministry of Transport (RMOT) to have discussions with SovFracht-Sovmortrans Group in December 2016 to launch a new cruise ship.
SovFracht-Sovmortrans Group provides private transportation services including infrastructure and ship management, rail and container freight forwarding, project cargo and heavy lift logistics, auto haulage, and agency services.
The discussions came after Putin ordered the Ministry to organize 2017 Crimea regular air and maritime traffic between Sochi, Russia and the Ukraine Crimea region. RMOT held preliminary talks with Sovfracht Group to launch regular passenger service to the seaports in the Crimea.
Now, RMOT plans to deploy the cruise ship Roy Star (former name Royal Iris) sailing with a Russian flag. The cost of acquiring the cruise ship and renovations are estimated to be RUB 700 million (US $11,696,790).
There are early estimates that the cruise ticket prices would be RUB 4500 (US $75) per day. The planned port of departure appears to be from Sochi, Russia on the Black Sea with Black Sea port calls of Novorossiysk, Russia and Yalta and Sevastopol on the Ukraine Crimean Peninsula then Istanbul, Turkey before returning to Sochi.
The History of Royal Iris
British owned Southern Ferries, a subsidiary of P & O Ferries, launched car/cruise ferry Eagle on May 16, 1971. In 1975, Southern Ferries sold Eagle to Paquet Cruises’ subsidiary Nouvelle Cie. de Paquebots; it was renovated into a cruise ship and sailed for twelve years as Azur.
The cruise ship was then sold to Greek company, Chandris Lines and christened as The Azur, sailing from 1987-1994. The Azur was then sold to Greek company, Festival Cruises and remained The Azur, sailing out Venice and Genoa until they declared bankruptcy in 2004. The Azur was placed under arrest by harbor authorities in Gibraltar.
The Azur was then sold for over USD $10 million to Israel-based Mano Maritime and christened Royal Iris, sailing through the Greek Islands and Cyprus. In late 2014, Mano Cruise stopped the ship's service.
Royal Iris has a capacity for 770 passengers with a crew of 325.
Cruising the Crimea - History of the Ukraine Crimea
After the fall of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, 2014, when the Ukrainian parliament voted to remove him from his post, Yanukovych went into exile in Russia. Yanukovych was wanted by the Ukraine for high treason. But, he still considered himself to be the "the legitimate head of the Ukrainian state elected in a free vote by Ukrainian citizens"
A Facebook post made October 3, 2014 by the aide to the Ukrainian Interior Minister, Anton Gerashchenko, said that Yanukovych had been granted Russian citizenship by a "secret decree" of Vladimir Putin.
Shortly thereafter, Ukrainian military reported intensive movement of troops and equipment from Russia into the separatist controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. Though the invasion force had no Russian military insignias, masked troops were seen taking control of key Ukraine cities. Russia then annexed Crimea after a disputed referendum, in which Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation.
Russian sanctions were approved by the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries. Russia has responded with sanctions against a number of countries, including a total ban on food imports from the EU, United States, Norway, Canada and Australia.
Now, the Russians are announcing they will be using the Crimea for planned cruises in 2017, so we looked at the history of the Russian cruise industry for clues as to what we might expect from the new Russian cruise line in the future.
Russian Cruising History
February 16, 1986 - Russian cruise ship MS Mikhail Lermontov owned by the Soviet Union's Baltic Shipping Company, collided with rocks near Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand with an estimated 1334 passengers and 700 crew aboard, sank resulting in one crew member death.
November 27, 2006- Russian cruise ship MV Lyubov Orlova Russian cruise ship (1976-1996: Far Eastern Shipping Company, Vladivostok (Russia); 1996-2013: Lubov Orlova Shipping Co Ltd, Malta & Novorossiysk (Russia) had an eventful history.
The 4,500-ton MV Lyubov Orlova cruise ship with one hundred and fifty passengers aboard was visiting Deception Island in the south Shetlands when it run aground in Whalers’ Bay. The captain put out a distress call, and was answered by the Spanish Navy icebreaker vessel, Las Palmas. The Las Palmas waited for the high tide and began towing, which was successful eight hours later. Lyubov Orlova returned under its own steam to Ushuaia, Argentina and passengers were flown back to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The next recorded incident for the Lyubov Orlova, was when the aging cruise ship sailed into St. John's, Newfoundland in Canada with passengers aboard in September 2010. The cruise ship failed inspection due to too many infractions and was held in port. The aging cruise ship was abandoned without repairs, becoming a problem for the Canadian government. Meanwhile, the 49 Russian and two Ukrainian crew members aboard and had not been paid in five months.
The ship was ultimately sold by the government of Canada to American company Neptune International Shipping for scrapping after a two year saga. While being towed out of Canada, the line broke, and the ghost ship drifted in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Since it was in international waters, the Canadians issued maritime warnings and let it continue to drift towards Europe.
February 23, 2013, Lyubov Orlova was reportedly spotted 1,300 nautical miles off Ireland and it was feared it would drift to the United Kingdom coastline. British newspapers fueled the fear, calling it a "ghost ship likely to be infested with hundreds, if not thousands of cannibal rats" as it headed straight for the United Kingdom.
On March 1, 2013, Irish media reported that a signal from the vessel's emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) was received from 700 nautical miles off the coast, still in international waters. Since an EPIRB only starts transmitting when the device is exposed to water, it was assumed the cruise ship sunk. A review published in October 2013 cites the receipt of two EPIRB distress signals from Lyubov Orlova in mid-ocean, one on February 23 and another on March 12.
July 11, 2001 Russian cruise ship MV Bulgaria was a river cruise ship, which sank while sailing from the town of Bolgar to the regional capital, Kazan. MV Bulgaria sank on the Volga River near Syukeyevo, Kamsko-Ustyinsky District, Tatarstan, Russia, with 201 passengers and crew aboard resulting in 122 confirmed deaths.
Investigators say the ship left the port of Kazan at 11:15pm Moscow time, during a storm, listing to starboard with a broken port engine. Investigators say the cause was listing, which may have been due to sewage tanks not being emptied and fuel only in the starboard tanks. Some reports say a contributing factor was, portholes were opened because of the lack of air conditioning on the vessel, which allowed water to enter Bulgaria, when the captain attempted to turn the ship during stormy weather. One survivor reportedly said, emergency exit doors on the boat had been sealed or locked shut, which is thought to have contributed to the high death toll.
United States State Department Warning - Ukraine Travel Warning
LAST UPDATED: DECEMBER 14, 2016
The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to Crimea and the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated June 17, 2016.
The December 14, 2016 Travel Warning states, "Russia-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, where violent clashes have resulted in over 9,000 deaths. A ceasefire agreement established a de facto dividing line between Ukrainian government-controlled and separatist-held areas of Ukraine, with a limited number of operational checkpoints controlled by government and separatist forces. There have been multiple casualties due to land mines in areas previously controlled by separatists, and both sides of the contact line are mined. Separatist leaders have made statements indicating their desire to push the front line to the administrative borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Artillery and rocket attacks near the line of contact continue to occur regularly. Individuals, including U.S. citizens, have been threatened, detained, or kidnapped for hours or days after being stopped at separatist checkpoints. The Government of Ukraine has stated that foreigners, including U.S. citizens, who enter Ukraine from Russia through separatist-controlled territory, will not be allowed through checkpoints into government-controlled territory.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits U.S. civil aviation from flying in the Ukrainian Simferopol (UKFV) and Dnipropetrovsk (UKDV) Flight Information Regions. For further background information regarding FAA flight advisories and prohibitions for U.S. civil aviation, U.S. citizens should consult Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.
The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly. U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors should protests or demonstrations escalate."