The remnants of Russian science have suffered a significant loss. On 1 November, Danish authorities detained the Russian research vessel Akademik Ioffe during a raid on the port of Skagen and confiscated court documents.

The vessel Akademik Ioffe is used by the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences for scientific purposes. It was built in 1988 and named after the Soviet physicist Abram Fedorovich Ioffe. The tonnage of the vessel is 6,450 tonnes, and its length is 117 metres. The ship is flying the Russian flag and is owned by the state.

The website of the Ocean Expedition Centre of the Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences states that the vessel Akademik Ioffe has the status of a unique scientific installation and is used for experiments on long-range sound propagation in the ocean. Such experiments are performed for oceanology but may have a military purpose.

On 26 October, the vessel completed its 59th expedition, during which a group of scientists conducted geophysical research of the seabed. Scientists studied the deep passages of the Antarctic bottom water in the northeastern part of the Atlantic Ocean.

On 30 October, the vessel left Kaliningrad for a new, 60th expedition, also in the Atlantic. It was to last almost two months and end on 28 December in the port of Kaliningrad. On 1 November, the vessel arrived in Denmark, where it was arrested during a raid while refueling from a tanker.

Why did calm Denmark take interest in research vessel from Russia?

It turned out that the arrest of the vessel was a precautionary measure taken on the claim of the Canadian travel company One Ocean Expeditions Ltd.

Over the past nine years, the research vessels Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Vavilov have been used by this company for sea cruises. The publication of the Institute of Oceanology states that such tourist cruises on board vessels Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Vavilov supported the entire Russian scientific fleet.

The agreement between the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology and the Canadian side was signed in 2012 and provided for the possibility of an annual extension.

The Cypriot offshore company Terragelida Ship Management Limited was the intermediary between the Russian research institute and One Ocean Expeditions.

Difficulties at One Ocean Expeditions arose in 2018 when the research vessel, booked by a travel agency, ran aground. According to One Ocean Expeditions’ Managing Director, Andrew Prossin, nine voyages were canceled due to the shipwreck, while tickets for most of them were completely sold out at the time. Losses, including repairs, amounted to more than $6.5 million.

The Canadian company found out less than a month before the first trip that voyages would not take place in 2019 either. One Ocean Expeditions was faced with the fact that the booked Akademik Ioffe and Akademik Vavilov would stay in Russia. Attempts to urgently find other ships to accommodate passengers were unsuccessful. The Canadian company went bankrupt…

Responding to attempts to settle financial relations, the Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences stated it had no direct contractual relationship with One Ocean Expeditions at the time. Both vessels were booked by the Cypriot company and are at its disposal in the port of registration of Kaliningrad.

Sanctions were imposed on the two above-mentioned vessels, and they have not entered foreign ports since. It is for this reason that the vessel Akademik Mstislav Keldysh went on an Arctic expedition in 2020, although, according to the Institute of Oceanology staff, the condition of this ship is worse than that of Vavilov and Ioffe, which always worked on Arctic expeditions.

Legal actions

The Canadian company filed for arbitration to recover damages from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, about $6.5 million for the repair of Akademik Ioffe and another $12.5 million for the “illegal termination” of booking.

In addition, One Ocean Expeditions says that the tour operator’s property, worth $1.5 million, remains on board Russian vessels.

Putin speaks almost constantly about the Kremlin’s attention to the development of Russian science. But what are the billions of rubles that, according to Putin, Russian science receives are spent on, if the possibility to conduct scientific research is provided by commercial voyages on scientific ships worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars? Are civilian tourists needed to cover up military ocean research? And why does a respected research institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences operate its business through a Cypriot offshore? Many questions – few answers…

Meanwhile, 23 scientists and 38 crew members are on board the arrested vessel, and their fate is still unclear.

According to some reports, Russian science may soon lose another research vessel. Akademik Vavilov may also be arrested within a similar lawsuit.

Yuri Fedorenko, Head of NGO “Agency for Development of Democracy and Information Freedoms”

All News ›