Scientific Industrial Association (SIA)
Date Visited: May 19-20, 1993
Report Author: L. Gentry
Igor M. Nestorenko; General Director
Vladimir G. Usenko; Chief, Department for Operations
Victor A. Horoshev; Chief Engineer
Marat V. Sarvanidi; Chief, Electronics Department
Vladimir C. Gevorkian; Chief, Underwater Subdivision of Underwater Investigations Institute of Geological Science (although located in Kiev, he accompanied the team to Sevastopol to coordinate our visit)
Mariecoprom is the operating arm of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, and is located at Sevastopol on the Black Sea. The association operates a fleet of research vessels and manned submersibles for various institutions of the academy to carry out oceanographic and geological studies (see separate site reports on the institutes of hydromechanics, hydrophysics, and marine geology). Mariecoprom has in the past operated its fleet in many areas of the world. In fact, the association still has ships operating in Peru (Odyssey, with its submersible, the Sever-2 Bis) and in the Far East (Gidronavt and its submersible, the Tinro-2), but most of its interests are now in the Black Sea, where much of the Ukraine's plans for exploitation of resources are focused. Oil, subsea minerals, and gas hydrates are among the riches available in the Ukrainian portions of the Black Sea. Funding also limits the international operations of the Black Sea research fleet; only those on contract work venture out of this local inland sea.
The nine vessels (most are converted fishing vessels) range in size from 1,200 to nearly 4,000 tons. Each vessel supports one or more of ten manned submersibles in scientific investigations of the water column and seafloor. Mariecoprom does not operate unmanned vehicles since the association feels strongly that the best science is accomplished in situ by knowledgeable and trained academics. The submersibles at Mariecoprom range in size and capability from the very large, twelve-person Benthos-300 to the small, towed, three-person Tetis-H. Mariecoprom is able to provide well qualified operating crews for its vessels and submersibles, and is willing to share research of mutual interest in the Black Sea or lease its assets for worldwide operations at very low daily rates. The estimated rate in the Black Sea for a fully crewed Sever-2 submersible and support vessel Ikhtiander is about $500 per day, excluding fuel and oil. This is purely an estimate; actual costs will depend on the area of operation and many other factors.
Mariecoprom does not conduct research and development directly. The association operates and maintains the platforms for the Ukraine government and the Academy of Sciences institutes, and works with other institutes to conduct field investigations and studies.
The team met with Mr. Igor Nestorenko and his staff at the Mariecoprom offices for general discussions, then toured the Sevastopol harbor facilities where the ships and submersibles are serviced and maintained. Only three submersibles were available for inspection at the time.
The team visited the Omar (built in 1989), which was in the shop being prepared for operations in the summer. It is equipped with two seven-function manipulators and can accommodate scientific payloads of 250 kg. Omar is a hydraulically powered vehicle with twin main propulsors and three maneuvering forward thrusters for pitch and yaw control. The vehicle, which has no computer systems onboard, is essentially manually controlled. Both Omar and its sister boat the Langust (1990) are very simple, rudimentary vehicles and are far behind the sophistication of similar submersibles in the West. However, they are proven, reliable, have outstanding safety records, and are cost-effective alternatives to their high-tech counterparts in the West. The depth rating of Omar (540 m) is marginal for many scientific missions.
The team then toured the Sever-2 (1972) submersible onboard her support ship, the Ikhtiander. The Sever-2 and Sever-2 Bis (1976) are older than the Omar, but they are larger and more capable boats. They support a crew of five for a submerged duration of about six hours at depths to 2,000 m, with a payload of 500 kg. The design and level of sophistication of Sever-2 is similar to Omar (e.g., both have simple manual controls and a magnetic compass for navigation). Geodetic navigation and position are tracked from the surface using acoustic long baseline transponders. View ports and external lights are used instead of video systems for all operations, including the use of manipulators. Sever-2 is better outfitted for science than the smaller Omar. It has a roomy forward observation sphere for three people, with the two pilots seated at side-by-side consoles aft of the observation sphere. Piloting at the maximum forward speed of three knots is aided by a forward looking sonar, but all controls are manual, with no indication of closed loop computer controls and no remote video systems.
The team also toured the Benthos-300 Submersible Laboratory. Two Benthos-300s were built in 1976 and 1981. Both are still operational in the Black Sea. They are very large research submersibles capable of supporting a twelve-man crew for seven days of submergence at up to 320 m. At over 30 m in length and more than 500 tons displacement, the vessels are too large to launch from a support vessel. Thus, they are towed to the work site on the surface or submerged in bad weather. The boats are diesel powered while on the surface and battery powered when submerged. Their submerged speed is up to 5 kts. The crew is composed of a mix of operators, divers (hydronauts), and scientists, depending upon the mission. Shallow diving operations to 60 m are done on compressed air. Deeper diving is done on mixed gas. A large diver support area aft contains a four-man diver lockout chamber, a two-man recompression chamber, diving gas storage, and a dive locker. Six berths, a small galley, and a mess area were observed; also, a large area for scientific equipment is located forward. The Benthos-300s are old and, like the other submersibles toured, not equipped with many modern features. Although they are cramped and could be uncomfortable for continuous seven-day submergence, the Benthos-300 seems to be reliable, safe, and well crewed. It is certainly adequate for the purpose of seafloor work and science.
Mariecoprom has developed an over-the-side launch and recovery technique for the fishing trawlers used as support ships. Large davits, booms, and side doors have been fitted to the ships, and the submersibles are handled off the lee side with heavy tackle. Divers or small boats are needed to make connections and disconnections in the water, but they claim to have made safe recoveries in sea conditions to Beaufort 7.
Vladimir C. Gevorkian, the father of Benthos-300, and the other submersible engineers and crew members were very helpful in answering questions. The team was especially honored by the ceremony where Mr. Seymour and Mr. Gentry were named as "hydronauts of the Benthos-300."
. Book of specification sheets and photographs.
Benthos-300. A history of the Benthos-300 in Russian. Moscow: 1992.
Submersibles Available at Mariecoprom. Booklet in Russian. Sevastopol, Kiev: 1991.