What is known about the ‘demilitarized’ Russian tug, the Vasily Bekh

·4 min read
Tug Vasily Bekh in September 2021
Tug Vasily Bekh in September 2021

The New Voice of Ukraine summarizes what is known about the tugboat, and the Ukrainian Navy’s strike.

Tug Vasily Bekh: Key facts

The tugboat Vasily Bekh (formerly SB-739) is a relatively new addition to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The tug, which is nominally considered a rescue tug, was commissioned into the Russian Black Sea Fleet in March 2017.

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The vessel was designed at the Vympel design bureau in Nizhny Novgorodwithin the framework of project 22870 (a category of rescue tugs).

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The tug can perform the following functions:

  • emergency rescue and towing of ships,

  • firefighting on ships and coastal facilities,

  • pumping water and supplying power to vessels in emergencies,

  • evacuation of the crew and providing first aid to casualties,

  • carrying out diving operations at depths of up to 60 meters,

  • conducting exploration and survey work, as well as cleaning up oil spills.

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The Vasily Bekh was laid down at the Astrakhan Shipyard. It was launchedin August 2016, and in the fall of the same year it was towed to Russian-occupied Sevastopol. In January 2017, the ship passed running tests, in March 2017 it was officially introduced into service with the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The tug was based in Striletska Bay (Sevastopol).

The boat received its current name — Rescuer Vasily Bekh — only a year ago, in April 2021. It was renamed in honor of the chief engineer of the search and rescue department of the Black Sea Fleet. The tug is part of the 145th detachment of rescue ships of the Black Sea Fleet.

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Technical characteristics of the tug Vasily Bekh:

  • Full load: 1,670 tons (according to the Ukrainian Navy — 1,605 tons)

  • dimensions: length — 57 m, beam — 14 m, draft — 3.2 m.

  • maximum speed: 14 knots.

  • crew: 26 people

  • rescue equipment: winch, hook, hoisting devices, dive complex with pressure chamber, fire extinguishers — 3 fire monitors with a capacity of 500 m3/h; Marlin-350 submarine with operating depth of up to 400 meters.

  • number of additional places for injured/rescued/transported people — 36.

Struck on the way to Snake Island: How Ukraine put the tug Vasily Bekh out of action

On the morning of June 17, the Ukrainian Navy reported that they had managed to hit the tug the Vasily Bekh while the ship was heading to Snake Island. It is reported that on this occasion the tug was performing a non-rescue function: it was bringing ammunition, weapons and personnel of the Russian Black Sea Fleet to the Ukrainian island.

A TOR anti-aircraft missile system was installed on board the tug, but this did not prevent the Ukrainian Navy from striking the ship.

The probable moment of the strike on the tug Vasily Bekh was recorded on video:

The Operational Command South of the Armed Forces of Ukraine stated that the blow was inflicted as a result of "precise work of a group of diverse defense forces of the south of Ukraine."

As a result of the accurate hit, the tug was turned into a "floating flame."

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According to preliminary data from OC South, Ukrainian forces managed to kill up to 70% of the tugboat crew of Vasyl Bekh, the fate of the others is unknown.

As of midday on June 17, it is known that other Russian ships were trying to conduct a search and rescue operation at the site of the strike on the tug Vasily Bekh.

It is still unknown with which weapon the Ukrainian Navy struck the Russian ship. Odesa Oblast Governor Maksym Marchenko previously said Harpoon anti-ship missiles had been used, but he later edited his post in Telegram, removing mention of the type of weapon.

The United States and Denmark previously promised to supply Ukraine with Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

The Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship cruise missile. It has a subsonic flight speed and high-explosive fragmenting warhead weighing 221 kg.

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The maximum range of the weapon depends on the launcher, type of the missile, and the target, and ranges from 90 to 220 kilometers.

Available in variants for:

Fixed-wing aircraft — AGM-84
Surface ship — RGM-84
Submarine — UGM-84

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Journalist Andriy Tsaplienko said that, according to other sources, the blow was struck by a Brimstone rocket.

"In any case, this means that the navy is already using Western missile weapons," Tsaplienko added.

Russia has not yet commented on the loss of the tug.