A Russian naval spy ship collided with a Togo-flagged vessel carrying livestock on Thursday outside of the northwestern entrance to the Bosphorus Strait. The impact ripped a hole in the hull of the Liman, a former research vessel re-fitted as an intelligence ship, causing it to sink.
Initially, there were concerns that not all of the Russian sailors made it off the Liman safely, though all 78 members of the crew were eventually rescued. The Turkish coastguard located 63 of the crew members after the collision with the Togo-flagged ship Youzarsif H, while the other 15 sailors were saved by the Youzarif itself.
According to the Telegraph, the rescued Russian crew members were all transferred to a Turkish military vessel before being taken to a Russian ship.
The Youzarif sustained only minor damage during the incident and was able to proceed on its journey after the collision.
The area where the accident took place was covered in a heavy fog at the time of impact, suggesting the impact was accidental. It isn’t clear where the Liman departed from or what its intended destination was at this point.
The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, spoke with his counterpart in Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, regarding the incident, describing it as an accident.
Russian warships frequently use the Bosphorus Strait to access the Syrian coast. Russia’s naval presence in the region supports their air campaign in the area, supporting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
Based on the large amount of traffic of Russian ships through the strait, moving to and from Syria, the area has become known as the Syrian Express.
Additionally, the flow of Russian vessels has gotten the attention of the local Istanbul population, as the ships pass in full view of citizens near the waterway.
Cem Devrim Yaylali, a Turkish naval expert and editor of the Bosphorus Naval News site, described the incident as an embarrassment for Russia. He believes the Liman was likely holding sensitive surveillance equipment and expects salvage efforts to commence before “anyone else sees it.”
He said, “If the ship cannot be salvaged then Russia surely will try to take away the sensitive equipment from on board by divers.”