Naval Air: August 1, 2001


A Sailing We Shall Go, And Go, And Go- For over a year, a commercial tug has been towing the unfinished ex-Soviet (ex-Ukrainian) aircraft carrier Varyag around in the Black Sea. The Chinese bought the ship (supposedly to turn it into a hotel-casino, but actually to subject it to detailed analysis with a view toward future Chinese aircraft carrier construction), but Turkey won't allow the ship to pass through the Bosporous Strait. The ship has no engines and, should there be any accident during its passage of the Straits, a major problem could result. With no rudders, the ship would be at the mercy of wind and currents, and could easily turn sideways and block the channel. The Bosporus is one of the world's busiest waterways, and the Turks make a hefty profit from ships passing through it. The ship has deteriorated too far to be used as a warship, but reverse engineering Soviet weapons is virtually the national sport of China. Most of the time, the tugboat crew is simply bored (although they have held barbecues on the flight deck), but once they observed a helicopter land on the carrier and three men taking measurements. By the time the tug crew took a small boat back to the carrier, the helicopter had departed, leaving behind the message "the French were here" in blue chalk. The towing company (Timmermans) is billing China $8,500 per day for towing, but China has stopped making payments. Timmermans would face international sanctions if it cut the ship loose or anchored near a coast without permission. Ukraine has refused to help China negotiate with Turkey.--Stephen V Cole


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