Russian Black Sea fleet can save Crimea’s underwater world

The high popularity of Crimea’s Yalta Bay among tourists has played a bad trick on the area’s ecosystem. Locals considered different solutions to the problem, but Russia’s Black Sea Fleet seems to be the only anchor.

Professional diver Aleksey Markov has been exploring the depths of the Black Sea in Ukraine’s Crimea for more than three decades. He says the underwater world here is absolutely unique from a scientific point of view. But he’s concerned about a danger that every year is getting worse.

“The peak tourist season brings large-scale pollution to Yalta Bay,” he said. “And the water fails to clean itself. Every year we see fewer fish caught in this part of the Black Sea. I believe Yalta Bay’s ecosystem is in grave danger.”

Markov has considered many different solutions to the problem, but his friend Igor Zorin – a deputy in the Yalta city council – came up with a simple yet hopefully highly effective idea.

“We will ask the Russian Black Sea fleet stationed here to give us several of their old ships,” Zorin stated. “We will sink them and create an artificial reef which will greatly improve Yalta Bay’s ecosystem. This is nothing new – many countries do the same. And for the Russian Fleet this would be good from a financial point of view – instead of paying for the utilization of old vessels, they would simply hand them over to us.”

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Zorin says the idea came to him after what was seen as a major policy shift in Kiev. The presidents of Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement to prolong the stay of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea until 2042.

With the previous administration in Kiev, ships of the Russian Black Sea fleet were unwanted guests in Ukraine’s Crimea and were to leave the area by the year 2017. But after the Kharkov agreement was signed, local authorities say they’re trying to do everything they can so that the fleet stays there for years to come.

Directly after ratification of the pact, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the fleet needed serious modernization. And now the Crimea is ready to help Moscow with that. Sevastopol’s city council says the Russian naval presence there brings massive investment for the city’s infrastructure. And calls for a refitting of the ships may create jobs for the locals.

“We have an excellent ship yard in the Crimea, which has been abandoned for almost two decades,” said the head of Sevastopol’s city council, Valeriy Saratov. “If Moscow decides to repair its fleet here, we’re ready to offer our facilities and specialists. This would be much cheaper for the Russians and would revive our factory, which was one of the best in the country just several decades ago.”

April’s Kharkov agreement sparked mass opposition protests in Kiev. They described it as a sellout of the country. In Crimea, the mood is very much the opposite. The Russian Black Sea fleet command has yet to respond to the divers’ and officials’ proposals for an artificial reef, but they’ll be glad to see few here can imagine life without the ships anchored at Sevastopol’s docks.