Russian Black Sea Cruises, Putin-style

Cruise ship PRINCE VLADIMIR and her woes
Andrey Klimenko
Black Sea News

Cruise ship PRINCE VLADIMIR set sail on June 11 for its’ first, much touted, Black Sea cruise, between Sochi and Novorossiysk ports of Russia, and ports of annexed by Russia Crimea. Liner should start her journey in the evening June 11, but actually, she left port of Sochi on the night of June 12, after several hours delay. Liner sailed into the blue sea with 239 tourists on board, less than 40% of 900+ passengers capacity, notwithstanding the fact, that liner and Black Sea cruises, especially starter cruise, were advertised and promoted by all Russian major media, from national TV to online outlets. Russian media nevertheless, claimed inaugurating cruise to be “an astounding success, liner being nearly 40% full in her first voyage” (no joke, that’s exactly what they said, citing cruise operator).

The ship was bought by Russian Maritime State Agency Rosmorport from Israeli Company Mano Maritime Ltd, she was in a lay-up at Greece port since late 2014, owner reportedly, was going to sell her for scrap, for some $2 mil in best case. Company was more than glad to be approached by Rosmorport, offering them lavish $12.7 mill for an old liner (including renovation cost). The deal was kept in secret to avoid possible sanctions. PRINCE VLADIMIR, the-then ROY STAR, was towed from Greece to Tuzla, Turkey, where she underwent repairs and renovation. She left Turkey on May 3 and ran into trouble right away, after shell plating parted and started to leak. Crew managed to seal the leak, cruise liner arrived to Sochi with 5-degrees starboard list.
PRINCE VLADIMIR was scheduled to begin its’ first journey on May 6, but cruise was postponed because of many deficiencies on board, including faulty generator, inoperative elevators and galley’s refrigerator.

PRINCE VLADIMIR was sent to a test voyage on May 28, with 216 passengers on board, all of them being Rosmorport employees with their families. Test cruise ran foul after numerous mechanisms failures, the ship stayed at Sevastopol port, Crimea, for 5 days, while emergency teams of technicians were feverishly trying to return mechanisms to life. The biggest problem is one of the generators, which can’t be repaired and has to be replaced with a new one, but it’s impossible without cutting the hull – during renovation, car deck of former passenger ro-ro ship was transformed into passenger living quarters with added cabins, which barred access to a number of mechanisms.

Ukraine already made an official statement, protesting PRINCE VLADIMIR’s cruises itinerary, which includes calling Crimean ports, i.e. is illegal, according to Ukrainian and international sanctions, imposed on Crimean shipping and ports after Crimea was annexed by Russia. All people who visit Crimea without a special permission issued by Ukraine, automatically turn into perpetrators of Ukrainian laws, subject to a number of penalties, including ban on Ukrainian visits.
The ship itself is a risk, too, judging from her latest records of accidents and mishaps.


The Great Leader’s whim
Mikhail Voytenko
Maritime Bulletin

Those are the details of PRINCE VLADIMIR before renovation:
ROY STAR (ex ROYAL IRIS, ELOISE, THE AZUR, AZUR, EAGLE), IMO 7032997, GT 14717, built 1971, capacity 770 passengers, crew 325.
After renovation, her capacity increased to 900+ passengers, while crew number was reduced to 250. To increase capacity, new owners put extra beds into existing cabins (by installing upper bunks), and made new inside cabins on former car deck. Because of that “renovation”, 193 cabins out of total 330 are so-called “inside cabins”, without windows or portholes. Suits, supposed to rank as “luxury”, don’t have balconies or panoramic windows. More to that, all windows and portholes in all cabins which have them, are wield-sealed, they can’t be opened.

The prices for 7-day cruises Sochi (Russia) – Novorossiysk (Russia) – Yalta (Crimea) – Sevastopol (Crimea) vary from cheapest 26,600 rubles ($460) per person to 75,800 rubles ($1320), depending on cabin Class.
8-day Mediterranean cruises on offer by Russian Cruises Agencies: the prices start from 690 EU (44,300 rubles), for cruises on board of QUEEN VICTORIA; ROYAL PRINCESS; PACIFIC PRINCESS.

When the project was first voiced in Russian media, Istanbul call was accentuated as included in cruise itinerary. Later Russian officials admitted, that talks with Turkey failed, and Istanbul calls were banned by Turkey, because of sanctions imposed on Crimean shipping. Recently, Rosmorport announced renewal of talks with Turkey on lifting ban, and possibility of Istanbul call starting autumn. Why so much fuss about Istanbul call, if from the very beginning cruise was dressed up in patriotic colors, expecting each Russian true patriot to be happy with a chance to visit “Russian” Crimea on board of Russian one and only ocean-going cruise liner?
Because Istanbul call is the only thing, which may make the whole idea if not viable, then at least, not so hopelessly wasteful. It’s the only one aspect, which may lure Russians into cruise, notwithstanding exorbitant prices, and more than doubtful quality. With oil price downfall, and sanctions imposed on Russian economy (including self-imposed sanctions); with nationwide, painfully reduced average household income, visiting Istanbul might be a good chance to buy much cheaper goods, and even food, in much bigger quantities, than allowed to be taken on plane. The rest of the cruise will be an unwanted, but tolerable, addition to the main bait – shopping in Istanbul.

Why, one may wonder, Rosmorport fell in for this project, in the first place? Are they so stupid that they can’t work out the balance sheet of the project? No, they aren’t. But here is where the big BUT is coming – cruise line was the idea of Him, of Nation Leader, or in other words, of Mr. Putin himself (why he is so infatuated with Black Sea cruises, is another story).
Two years ago Putin came up with idea of Crimea – Sochi fast-speed ferry line renewal, as it was in good old Soviet times. Rosmorport opened that line, and closed it down after first summer season, because it was, financially, tremendous loss and total failure. A year ago Putin bludgeoned Rosmorport with the new grandiose idea, of establishing first Russian sea-going cruise. Rosmorport just had to obey. That’s why Rosmorport so ardently wants Istanbul call to be included in itinerary. It’s the only thing, which can keep Mr. Putin’s dream afloat.
That’s the problem with Great Leaders and with countries which have to endure their ruling – each and every their whim is becoming a law, a nationwide agenda. Mr. Putin is saying many things, which are, obsequiously, hailed by industries and people concerned, as great ideas and kind of, light in the end of a tunnel, though as professionals, those people can’t but laugh or swear using most dirty language, or both. Not in public, of course.

Somebody, tell it to Mr. Oliver Stone and the likes of him – to those who adore Great Leader, be it Putin, or Chaves, or Stalin, or whatever.

June 17, 2017

Visual comparison:
Let’s have a look at the cabins of PRINCE VLADIMIR and QUEEN VICTORIA, and compare them visually:



Inside cabin:



Cabin with sea-view:

Inside cabin:



Mr. Klimenko is a Chief Editor of Ukrainian news agency and watchdog Black Sea News, monitoring situation in and around Russia-annexed Crimea, including shipping.