History of Russian Volga tanker fleet

History of Russian Volga tanker fleet
04.10.2012

Oil transportation in barrels by the Caspian Sea from Baku (large oil producing region of Russia) to Astrakhan started in the 70-s of the 19-th century using sailing schooners. The wooden barrels quickly became outworn, broke during transportation; there were cases of loss of ships due to breaking adrift of cargo and loss of stability. Ships equipped with oil filled boxes appeared in a short time.

There was an air gap between box walls and the board, which prevented drowning of ships in case of damage of their external shell. The idea to freight oil products in specially equipped bulk holds, rather than in barrels is attributed to a great Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleev. Such method of transportation was named "Russian method". In a few years, when the idea was successfully implemented by Artemyev brothers and was fully paid off, the method proposed by the great Russian scientist began to be widely used. It is on Volga and Caspian Sea where the bulk transportation of oil and oil products was commercially implemented for the first time in the global navigational practice.

Transportation of oil by the Caspian Sea to Volga dam (Astrakhan harbor) was carried out by schooners with special tanks (sailing boats), and from the Volga dam to Nizhny Novgorod – in barges tugged by steam boats. In 1874 a barge owned by the Artemyevs was the first one to deliver the oil along the Volga River from Astrakhan to Nizhny Novgorod.

The bulk transportation made oil shipment 3 times cheaper compared to the barrel transportation, and such sea transportation method began to be used by Oil Production Partnership of Nobel Brothers Russian oil industrial company. Upon the order of the company, the first steam tanker ship (Zoroastr) in the world was built in Sweden in 1877-1878, which was specially designed for the bulk transportation of oil.

First, for transportation of cargoes on the Volga River, Nobel Brothers Partnership built wooden bulk barges with approximately 500 t round metal tanks, and then iron 560 t barges.

New vessels appeared on the Volga River, which were designed for transportation of various types of oil products, i.e. oil, kerosene, etc., as well as special bulk vessels for oil cargoes, i.e. oil pumping boats (pumping machines) equipped with steam machines for pumping of cargo, Popovka ships designed for pumping of oil and kerosene from one ship to another, or from tanker ships to coastal tanks.

In the 80-s and 90-s the oil became the main industrial fuel and was also used at steam boats. Shipping companies revamped furnaces of their steam boats for oil. Fuel oil turned out to be cheaper and more economical than firewood. Station time of ships for loading of fuel became shorter, big areas occupied by firewood became free, which, in its turn resulted in the increased freight-carrying capacity of ships.

Railways could not cope with the huge oil flow. In 1897-1907 Baku – Batumi kerosene pipeline was built; oil transportation by sea and rivers grew year by year.

First 800 t steam river tankers were built in 1887-1888, and at the same time, cargo carrying capacity of some oil tank barges was up to 3000 tons. Evolution of such nonself-propelled vessels followed the way of their volume increase: there appeared 3400 t barges (built at Gorokhovets dockyard of Nizhny Novgorod Guberniya in 1905), and then Marpha Posadnitsa barge capable to carry more than 9 000 tons of oil products (1907).

The tankers were still small. The first Russian tanker (Artsiv Vaspurakani, displacement - 1200 tons, speed – 10.5 knots) was built in 1894 in Perm. The next steam ship for bulk cargo (Nikolay, displacement - 1240 tons, speed – 6 knots) was built in Sormovo, and after that President Kryuger (displacement - 2100 tons, speed – 9.2 knots) was set afloat in Votkinsk and Aleydar Useynov (displacement - 2070 tons, speed – 11 knots) – also in Sormovo.

Small dimensions of the steam tanker ships were primarily preconditioned by narrow and shallow navigable channels of Volga estuary, and also by the fact that the locks of the Mariinsk Canal System provided for passage of limited-displacement ships only.

In 1903 Nobel Brothers built the first in the world river motor ships (Vandal, Sarmat and Skif tankers) at Sormovo plant in Nizhny Novgorod. These ships were designed for transportation of oil products from Rybinsk to Saint Petersburg. The hull dimensions took into account restrictions of the Mariinsk Canal System.

In Soviet times, after 1918, light cruisers were rearranged into tankers. During rearrangement they didn’t take the armor from ships, which provided for their operation in ice.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) river transportation of oil needed for cities, plants, weapons and military equipment did not cease despite of continuous military operations on the Volga River.

Construction of a large series of new Volgoneft-type tankers (deadweight – 4800 tons) started in 1967 (Volgograd shipbuilding yard alone built 140 tankers of such type).

Oil transportation on the Volga River is attributed to the names of Artemyev brothers, Nobel brothers, Sirotkin ship-owner, Mazut, Okean joint stock companies, in Soviet times – to Volgotanker shipping company.

Starting from 1994 a new stage of Volga tanker fleet history started, i.e. corporatization of shipping companies throughout the country, which resulted in incorporation of new joint stock companies dealing with transportation of oil and oil products along domestic water routes.

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