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Khanka at The Red Sea Wreck Project

The Khanka, also known as the “Russian Wreck”, is the wreck of a Russian spy ship. Being a spy ship, there is of course, not much information publicly available on it.

Nearly all ship’s registered under the Russian flag would have carried a “Zampolit”, or Political Officer, onboard who was in regular contact with Moscow which would give the appearance of any vessel of the Russian fleet, commercial or otherwise, of that of a spy ship. Although the Russians did use commercial vessels for the gathering of information from other countries using SIGINT (Signals Intelligence Gathering), and ELINT (Electronic Signals Intelligence) as well.

The ship in question here has an “SSV” designation (Sudno Svyazyy, or communications vessel) located on its hull which positively identifies it as a MOMA (Project 861M) Class ship, a modified 861-class survey/bouy tender. It is believed, but yet to be proven, that it is the wreck of the Khanka which is listed at the Miramar website as being lost prior to 01 July 1982, but the ship details do not match this ship type.

Technical Specifications:
Displacement: 1,580 tons full load
Dimensions: 73.3 x 11.2 x 3.9 meters/240.5 x 36.7 x 12.8 feet
Propulsion: 2 Zgoda 6TD48 Sulzer diesels (typical of class), 2 shafts with controllable pitch propellers, 3,600 bhp, 16 knots
Crew: 80-120
Sonar: Bronza array
EW: Intercept arrays
Radar: 2 Navigation, 2 Don. (typical of class)
ELINT Systems and Equipment: Vitok-AK, MR-R-1-7, Vakhta-M, Vakhta-10, Vakhta-12, Vizir-M, Rotor-N, Uzel, Kaira
Builder(s): As of 1986, only ten of this class of ship was known to have been active in Russian service. These ships were constructed between 1967 and 1974 in both Russia (Zaliv Shipbuilding yard) and in Gdansk, Poland. The Khanka is not listed as being one of them. However, no information concerning a MOMA class vessel named Khanka has been located either (Research ongoing)

A Bit of Cold War Russian ELINT history
During the early years of the Cold War (late 1940’s-early 1950’s) Russia did not have an extensive network of overseas listening posts. In the early 1950’s the Russian government began to develop a versatile and affordable alternative to land-based surveillance outposts in the form of using commercial ships. The common fishing trawler quickly became the favoured vessel for conducting surveillance of foreign governments. These vessels were affordable to operate and maintain, had good sea-keeping capabilities, and had cargo holds which could be easily be modified to carry SIGINT and ELINT equipment discretely out of sight. Additionally, they were portable, which allowed them to be placed in international waters off the coasts of almost any country in the world in order to conduct surveillance with minimal harassment. As the development of these “spy ships” evolved, Russia began constructing purpose-built ELINT platforms.
Why was the “Khanka” in the Red Sea?:
The wreck of the ship lies in 24 meters of water in the western bay of Zabargad Island. The ships presence in the southern Red Sea should not surprise anyone that follows world politics and military events. The Russians had established a FAPSI-GRU surveilance facility in 1971 on Socotra Island at Yemen’s Ras Karm Military Airbase. Use of the facility continued until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Socotra Island is strategically important because it lies at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Control of this island effectively allows for an unlimited ability to conduct monitoring of marine traffic, both commercial and military, entering and leaving the Red Sea. So a Russian “spy ship” in the southern Red Sea should come as no surprise to anyone.

The MOMA-class ships were originally designed as survey ships and buoy tenders. To the average observer, a survey ship moored at Zabargad Island would not raise too many questions as the island has had numerous geological surveys conducted on it over the years due to its location along a tectonic rift. Additionally, a gem known as “Peridot” (Chrysolite) was mined on the island from at least the Ptolomaic era until well into the 20th century. The reasons for the ship’s sinking however, suspected to be prior to 1985, is not so easy to explain away……

Diving Information

The wreck lies at Zabargad Island in 24-meters of water. The mast of the ship just breaks the surface during low-tide and is a good place to make a safety stop. The ship appeared to strike the reef head-on and the bow and forward hold have separated from the rest of the ship and is laying on its port side. The rest of the ship is sitting upright facing the reef itself. Penetration into the pilothouse and engine room is easily possible on this dive. The ship’s holds may also be accessible as well (And this is where the “spy” equipment would be found!). All of the deck fittings, hatches, and some of the handrails are still in place as well. The site is subject to current which can cause a decrease in visibility.

Miramar Single Ship Reports for 7008623

The Naval Institute Guide to the Soviet Navy (By Norman Polmar, United States Naval Institute)

Bases Abroad (By Robert E. Harkavy, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)

The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World (By Eric Wertheim)


About Author

Lee has been in the marketing industry for the last 15 years and now specializes in teaching marketing techniques to people in the scuba diving industry. He is founder of Dive Media Solutions which, in addition to providing complete marketing, media, communications and IT solutions exclusively for the scuba diving industry, also produces The Scuba News. You can connect with Lee via Twitter by following @DiveMedia

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  1. Pingback: 8 Eerie Sunken Ships You Should Explore | Tower Magazine

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