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Connecting shores

Sergey Milavin
Deputy Director General for Project Works – Chief Designer of the «Vympel» design bureau

It happens that important traffic arteries turn out to be separated by rivers, seas and sea straits. In order to agglomerate them, people build bridges and tunnels, and also create ferry lines

It is quite common that, irrespective of a feasibility from the technical point of view to build a bridge or a tunnel between two coastal points, the choice turns finally to a ferry crossing option as it comes to be more economically viable.

Being part of the international transport corridors, ferry lines help to carry out transportation of cargoes without transshipment, providing for the though railroad and highway traffic on segments with an increased cargo and passenger flows. The «Vympel» design bureau has been actively participating in the development of Russian ferries for all the key directions.  

A little history

The development of the country’s transportation system and the increase of the volume of motor and railroad transportation in the post-war years led to the necessity of building ferry crossings. After a long pause in the design and construction of ferries in the territory of the Soviet Union, the «Vympel» design bureau was one of the first in the country to start development of ferries for railroad passages.

For instance, due to the construction of the Khabarovsk-Komsomolsk-Sovetskaya Gavan railroad line, the bureau’s design was used for the creation of ferries to cross the Amur river, which were unique for that period of time.

The first ferries of project 723 “Volga” and “Don” started operation in the summer of 1945, and in 1951 they were joined by two more vessels of the same series - “Amur” and “Komsomolsk”. Those were the train-ferries, which had to provide the transportation of thirty two biaxial rail cars. The ferries had an open car deck, which was equipped with an 80-tons car lift in the fore, which was capable of receiving rail cars with a due lifting range with the ups and downs of water level within five meters. They were called to fulfill the strategic task of providing exit to the Tartar Strait, participated in the liberation of the Southern Sakhalin and the islands of the Kuril ridge during the anti-Japanese campaign. The ferries had been providing the crossing for over 30 years before a bridge across the Amur river was opened in 1975. The development of the design of the ferry for the Amur crossing laid foundations for the new specialization profile of the bureau.

In early 1950-ies, railroad diesel-electric ferries with ice reinforcement “Nadym”, “Chulym” and “Severny” of project 723B were built to provide crossing over the river Ob on route Salekhard – Igarka.  

But later, as the construction of the artery was halted, the vessels were redirected to the new line in the Kerch Strait and reequipped with the account of the area of operation and design features of the ports. The car lifts were taken away from the ferries, the fore parts were changed for the mooring facilities of the passage, it became possible to carry motor vehicles on an open deck. Thus, thanks to the all-the-year-around operation of the ferries, the Crimea-Caucasus passage became the only passage in the country for that time, where trains with passengers were transported according to a fixed timetable.    

Later, in line with the design of the «Vympel» design bureau, several sea port automobile-passenger ferries were constructed at the shipyards of Astrakhan, Severodvinsk with the use of a progressive method of entry/exit of motor vehicles based on the direct flow principle. Those were a 727 project vessel for the Sebastopol Bay, of 722 project for the Moonsund Archipelago, 736 – for the Bukhtorma water basin.  

The Vympel Design Bureau has been actively participating in the development of Russia’s ferries for 70 years

The successful experience of developing ferries for the Amur and Kerch passages allowed the «Vympel» design bureau to approach the fulfilling of one of the biggest tasks of the domestic shipbuilding, i.e. the creation of ferries to operate on the Caspian and Sakhalin passages.

To provide the railroad transportation between the ports of Baku and Kransnovodsk, the Krasnoye Sormovo plant constructed a series of five “Soviet Azerbaijan” train-ferries of project 721 in the period of 1962–1968, which had a capacity of 30 quadriaxial rail cars and 289 passengers with a covered area for the cars, permitting to protect them from harmful impact of sea water.   

A limited draft, constrained by the depths of the Krasnovodsk Canal, led to the necessity to apply low-weight alloys for the project. The distinctive feature of the designed train-ferries was their diesel-electric propulsion installations with the use of the electric propulsion principle, which provides for the reliable operation of ferries in ice conditions and flexible remote control over the works of the propeller blades, which is needed by the ferries considering their frequent moorings and complicated maneuvering.        

The “Soviet Azerbaijan” type ferries are rightly considered to be the nicest vessels in the Caspian Sea, and their high technical and operation qualities have been proved by the long-term experience of operation without limitations due to weather conditions in difficult hydrometeorological conditions of the Caspian basin.  

Fist “Sakhalins”

A landmark project for the bureau was the development of ice-breaking ferries of the “Sakhalin” type for the Vanino-Kholmsk line. The Kaliningrad shipbuilding plant Yantar built ten ferries of project 1809, which are powerful means of transportation for the all-year sea transportation of all the types of the railroad rolling stock, wheeled and tracked vehicles and passengers. The ferry capacity allowed it to accommodate 26 quadriaxial rail cars on the car deck and 72 passengers in cabins. The vessels had a full load displacement of 7730 tons, the length of 127 meters, twin-shaft diesel-electric installation with generators for the overall power of 11480 kW and reached the speed around 18 knots.

The development of this technically complicated vessel required a considerable volume of experimental works at the design bureau. Its own station of testing ship models on open waters held tests of a self-propelled ferry model. While testing the propulsion/steering unit of the ferry, the Kholmsk port was simulated. The trials were recorded by a motion picture camera and demonstrated later when the project was being considered on Sakhalin and in Vladivostok. As a result, as it was proved by the practice of operation, an effective composition of the propulsion/steering unit was chosen with the use of blades in the stern and the forebody, which were providing a capability of ferries to work in solid ice with a thickness of up to one meter and a reliable controllability in difficult conditions of entry and mooring in the port of Kholmsk.      

Later, in 1989, the «Vympel» design bureau developed a designed proposal on the creation of a second generation ferry for the Sakhalin passage, but the issue of renewing the ferry fleet at that time did not get any further development.  

the Vympel Design Bureau came out as the developer of the first Russia’s automobile-passenger icebreaking ferry

The «Vympel» design bureau came out as the developer of the first Russia’s automobile-passenger icebreaking ferry of the “Andrey Korobitsyn” type with a capacity of 390 passengers and 12 trucks. The construction of a series of four ferries of this type in late 1960-ies provided the all-year transportation on the Lomonosov-Kronstadt line, which existed until November 2011.   

Having proved itself as an experienced developer of reliable vessels for the river and sea ferry passages, in 1990-ies the «Vympel» bureau took part in the creation of international ferry complexes on railroad passages USSR-People’s Republic of Bulgaria and USSR-GDR as an expert, as well as a developer at the stage of the conceptual design of ferry boats of the “Shipka Heroes” and “Klaipeda” type for those passages. At that time the design bureau carried out some design exploration works on how to create new generation railroad and automobile ferries for the Sakhalin and Kerch passages, the Caspian basin and the Baltic Sea.

In those years of hardships the «Vympel» design bureau became one of the first Russian design organizations to introduce in its work computer-aided design systems. Having gained a possibility to work in cooperation with other firms based on the creation of 3-dimensional ship models, the bureau jointly with Finnish companies took part in the design and pre-production engineering of automobile and passenger ferries, e.g. SeaFrance, Tallink, Brittany, Viking Line and others. Later the bureau managed to spread the experience of cooperation and parallel documentation development on several ship specializations with the use of a shared 3D model for the work with Russian and foreign design organizations.   

In the beginning of the new millennium the interest from the part of the state and private companies to ferry transportation kept on growing. The fleet, built in the Soviet period, was aging morally and physically, the operation of old ferries was becoming unsafe, and the volume of construction of new vessels to replace the decommissioned ones were not able to fill the gap in requirements for cargo and passenger transportation.

The Baltics

The world leader from the point of view of the intensity of ferry crossings is the Baltic region. In 2009, in order to provide transportation of passengers and rolled-on equipment, the Vympel design bureau, under the order of the Russian Agency of Sea and River Transport, developed an engineering design of a cargo and passenger ferry to be used for all-the-year-around operation on line Ust-Luga – Baltiysk – ports of Germany.  

During the development of the engineering design of the ferry a special attention was paid to carrying out experimental and computational analysis to determine the propulsion qualities, seaworthiness, controllability and also aerodynamic qualities of the floatage in the experimental basins of the Academician A.N. Krylov Central Research and Development Institute and the «Vympel» design bureau. As a result, optimal hull lines were found and the propulsion and steering complex was selected, being capable of providing high maneuverability and consisting of two steering pitch screws, two semi-balance steering wheels, aft and bow thrusters.

Railroad cars, autotrailers and motor-cars are placed on three cargo decks. The rolling of vehicles from the pier is done through the stern gates on the lifting-transitional bridge to the main deck, from the unequipped shore - with the help of two ramps integrated into the aft closure; for the rolling on other decks special lifts are used.

To ensure the comfort of passengers, including disabled people, the ferry provides cabins of various classes, a business lounge, restaurants, cafes, a canteen, a bar, a shop, gyms, walking areas, saunas, a ship hospital, and a dental office. The design takes into account the requirements of all applicable national and international regulations and conventions, including regional requirements pertaining to the Baltic Sea. The design of the vessel includes advanced solutions, which will help to build a future ferry meeting the increased requirements of both environmental and passenger safety.

Within the federal target-oriented program “Development of civil maritime equipment for the period of 2009-2016”, the «Vympel» design bureau developed designs of advanced speedy river ferries of different capacity on air cushions with skegs, having small draft in the hovering mode, especially in the fore part of the vessel.

Such ferries can approach not only the existing floating berths, but also poorly equipped shorelines for loading and unloading operations, which is especially important when operating in areas with poorly developed coastal infrastructure, for instance, on the northern and eastern rivers of Russia. A practically rectangular shape of the cargo deck with ramps in the aft and fore parts ensures the through passage of automobiles and accommodation of a bigger number of them in the vessel.

The Tartar Strait nowadays

Over the past several years the issue of passage in the Tartar Strait has became extremely topical: as many as seven “Sakhalin” type vessels of project 1809 have been decommissioned, and the operation of the passage is being provided by the three remaining vessels of this series, one of which is designed for the transportation of hazardous cargoes. It is obvious that they have exhausted their lifespan, have become obsolete physically and morally, and that new ferries are needed so that the passage could continue to be operational. In late 2016 the Amur Shipbuilding Plant signed a contract with the State Transportation Leasing Company on construction of two cargo/passenger automobile-railroad ferries with the Агс5 ice category. It is these ferries that should replace the old “Sakhalins” in the passage.


The Vympel bureau has developed new design documentation of vessel in construction for the new ferries, is completing the development of the working design, acceptance and operational documentation. A business partner in the process of developing design documentation for vessel in construction is the author of the ferry engineering project, i.e. the Maritime Engineering Bureau-Design-SPB. The project has received number CNF11CPD and production serial number 00300.

The ferry is designed and being built for class KMArc5 AUT1-ICS OMBO ANTI-ICE ECO Ro-ro passenger ship of the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping and for the rule of flag of the Russian Federation. This is an automobile-railroad ferry with an ice-breaking stem bar, residential superstructure, stern engine room, twin-blade diesel propulsion unit, stern and two bow thrusters. The vessel can carry no less than 32 rail cars weighing 77 tons or 27 truck trains of 55 tons on the main deck, as well as 12 truck trains on the lower deck.

The vessel is intended for the carriage of all types of vehicles, various wheeled vehicles, up to 30 refrigerated containers, as well as hazardous cargoes of certain classes in accordance with the provisions of the International Maritime Code for Dangerous Goods and the rules of maritime transport of dangerous goods. The vessel has places for accommodation and transportation of 200 passengers in cabins and of 88 on seated places in the saloon.

The propeller-rudder complex consists of two screws of adjustable pitch and semi-suspended semi-balance steering wheels located behind them, providing the vessel with the specification speed and controllability. The power plant consists of four main engines (diesels) working in pairs through gearboxes on the screws of the steering pitch.

The vessel has specific hull fittings, which provide its operation as a ferry and as a rо-rо ship. There is a cargo elevator with a lifting capacity of 55 tons to load and unload automobile equipment from the main deck to the lower one. The opening in the deck above the elevator is closed by a waterproof closure. The aft loading port is closed by a closure, which is equal in strength to the main body and made in the form of a single lifting top-section of the door. In the stern of the vessel on the starboard side, a ramp is installed for loading and unloading wheeled vehicles to the main deck. To ensure floatability, the cargo space on the main deck is divided into two parts with a folding waterproof closure.

A flexible cargo handling system, the implementation of all current norms and rules of international conventions in the project, as well as an unlimited navigation area and ice reinforcement make it possible to operate the ferry not only in the Tatar Strait for the Vanino-Kholmsk ferry crossing, but also for many other terminals intended for ro-ro ships.

The Caspian Sea

Presently, a lot of attention is paid to the transportation system of the Caspian region. Its strategic importance, apart from hydrocarbon resources, is explained by a trans-boundary position between Europe and Asia at the intersection of promising intercontinental and international transport corridors East-West and North-South. From this point of view, the most promising ferry lines are Makhachkala - Aktau (Kazakhstan), port Olya - Anzali (Iran).

The ferries operating in the Caspian region have a capacity of around 50 truck trains. Their length is not more than 150, width is nearly 18 and the draft is up to 4.5 meters, which is explained by the parameters of the navigation pass, as well as the need to escort ships on inland waterways from the place of construction to the place of operation and their docking. Forecasting a considerable expansion of the cargo traffic, an economically viable solution may be the construction of ferries with a principally bigger cargo capacity.   

To fulfill this task, the «Vympel» design bureau is elaborating options of catamaran-type ferries with a capacity of up to 130 truck trains and 330 passengers.

For the Makhachkala-Aktau and Makhachkala-Anzali passages a catamaran type ferry is offered, having a length of 150 meters and the width of 45 meters. As it is possible to do the dredging in these ports, the ferry has an optimal draft of 6.5 meters.

In connection with the growing interest in shipments on line port Olya - Anzali, a catamaran ferry with reduced draft is proposed, however, shallow waters in the port of Olya and in the Volga-Caspian Canal reduce the efficiency of such a vessel. It should be noted that the creation of ferries for operation in the port of Olya will require large expenditures on expanding and keeping necessary parameters of the navigation pass in the Volga-Caspian Canal, and its work in the winter period will be significantly limited due to ice conditions.

Construction of catamaran ferries is possible at the USC enterprises located in the Astrakhan region. The hulls with the propulsion unit and equipment will be connected in a floating dock, the fitting-out is to be made with the use of a floating crane. Crane catamarans of the “Titan” type, which are now operating in the Caspian Sea, were assembled using the same technology.

Creating a ferry line with large-capacity ferries will require significant investments in infrastructure: arrangement of harbors, provision of docking for vessels, construction of a dock, development of infrastructure of the port area (access roads, parking for the backups of transport). For operation on the Olya-Anzali line, additional dredging will be required in the port of Olya and the Volga-Caspian Canal. But the increasing cargo traffic in the Caspian region in any case will require construction of a series of new, modern vessels. 

Connecting shores
Connecting shores
Connecting shores
Connecting shores
Connecting shores
Connecting shores
Connecting shores
Connecting shores