MS Mikhail Lermontov

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Mikhail Lermontov at Tilbury - - 1548525.jpg
Mikhail Lermontov at Tilbury in 1983
Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union
Name:Mikhail Lermontov
Namesake: Mikhail Lermontov
Owner: Baltic Shipping Company
Operator: Baltic Shipping Company
Port of registry: Leningrad, Flag of the Soviet Union.svg  Soviet Union
Yard number: 129
Launched: 31 December 1970
Acquired: 18 March 1972
In service: 21 April 1972
Notes: [1] [2]
General characteristics
Class and type: Ivan Franko-class passenger ship
Tonnage: 19,872  gross register tons  (GRT)
Displacement: 4,956 tonnes deadweight (DWT)
Length: 175.77 m (576 ft 8 in)
Beam: 23.60 m (77 ft 5 in)
Draught: 7.80 m (25 ft 7 in)
Depth: 13.50 m (44 ft 3 in)
Installed power:
Propulsion: Two propellers
Speed: 20 knots (37.04 km/h) service speed
Range: 8,000 mi (13,000 km)
  • 1334 passengers (maximum)
  • 700 passengers (cruise service)
Crew: 347
Notes: [1] [2] [3]

MS Mikhail Lermontov was an ocean liner owned by the Soviet Union's Baltic Shipping Company, built in 1972 by V.E.B. Mathias-Thesen Werft, Wismar, East Germany. It was later converted into a cruise ship. On 16 February 1986 she collided with rocks near Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, and sank, claiming the life of one of her crew members.

Ocean liner Ship designed to transport people from one seaport to another

An ocean liner is a passenger ship primarily used as a form of transportation across seas or oceans. Liners may also carry cargo or mail, and may sometimes be used for other purposes.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a federal sovereign state in northern Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Wismar Place in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Wismar is a port and Hanseatic city in Northern Germany on the Baltic Sea, in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is located about 45 kilometres east of Lübeck and 30 kilometres north of Schwerin, and is part of the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. Its natural harbour, located in the Bay of Wismar, is protected by a promontory. The population was 42,219 in 2013. It is the capital of the district of Nordwestmecklenburg.


MS Mikhail Lermontov

MS Mikhail Lermontov, launched in 1972, was the last of the five "poet" ships: Ivan Franko, Taras Shevchenko, Alexandr Pushkin (now Marco Polo), Shota Rustaveli and Mikhail Lermontov, named after famous Ukrainian, Georgian and Russian writers (Ivan Franko and Taras Shevchenko being Ukrainian, and Shota Rustaveli being Georgian), built to the same design at V.E.B. Mathias-Thesen Werft, Wismar, East Germany. Mikhail Lermontov, born 1814 and died 1841, was known as the "poet of Caucasus."

MS Ivan Franko was the first Ivan Franko-class passenger ship owned by the Soviet Union's Black Sea Shipping Company. She was built in 1964 by V.E.B. Mathias-Thesen Werft, Wismar, East Germany. She was scrapped in 1997 at Alang, India.

MS <i>Shota Rustaveli</i>

MS Shota Rustaveli was a cruise ship, built in 1968 by V.E.B. Mathias-Thesen Werft, Wismar, East Germany for the Soviet Union's Black Sea Shipping Company and named after the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli. After the fall of the Soviet Union she was handed to Ukraine. In 2000, she was sold to Kaalbye Group and renamed MS Assedo. In 2003, she was scrapped at Alang, India.

Ukrainians East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine

Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is by total population the seventh-largest nation in Europe and the third-largest among the Slavic peoples after the Russians and Poles. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens. The people of Ukraine have historically been known as "Rusyns (Ruthenians)", "Little Russians", and "Cossacks", among others. The connection with the Zaporozhian Cossacks especially, is emphasized in the Ukrainian national anthem, "We are, brothers, of Cossack kin". According to most dictionary definitions, a descriptive name for the "inhabitants of Ukraine" is Ukrainian or Ukrainian people.

MS Mikhail Lermontov was originally used as an ocean liner on the Leningrad—New York run. [4] However, the Soviet government realised that there was more money to be made by converting it to a cruise ship, and the accommodation and facilities on board were significantly upgraded in 1982 to meet the expectations of western customers.[ citation needed ]


On 16 February 1986 Mikhail Lermontov was cruising in New Zealand for the CTC cruise company. On that day it left Picton for the Marlborough Sounds, carrying mostly elderly Australian passengers. The Picton pilot, Don Jamison (who was also a Picton harbourmaster), piloted the ship out of Picton. His presence, and his knowledge of the area, should have assured the safety of MS Mikhail Lermontov.

Picton, New Zealand Place in Marlborough, New Zealand

Picton is a town in the Marlborough Region of New Zealand's South Island. The town is located near the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound, 25 km (16 mi) north of Blenheim and 65 km (40 mi) west of Wellington. Waikawa lies just north-east of Picton, and is often considered to be contiguous part of Picton.

Maritime pilot mariner who manoeuvres ships through dangerous or congested waters

A maritime pilot, marine pilot, harbor pilot, bar pilot, or simply pilot, is a sailor who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths. They are navigational experts possessing knowledge of the particular waterway such as its depth, currents, and hazards.

Harbourmaster official

A harbourmaster is an official responsible for enforcing the regulations of a particular harbour or port, in order to ensure the safety of navigation, the security of the harbour and the correct operation of the port facilities.

Hugging the shoreline to give the Australian passengers a good view of the area, Jamison continued towards the cape. About one mile from Cape Jackson, Jamison made the decision to take MS Mikhail Lermontov through the passage. A Russian officer questioned the decision, but the harbour-master assured him it would be a safe course, and at the time the decision was made the ship was still within the harbour limits.


On 6 February 1986, Mikhail Lermontov sailed from Sydney on the beginning of a two-week cruise around New Zealand, carrying 372 passengers and a crew of 348, which combined to a total of 743 people. On the evening of 16 February, Mikhail Lermontov was sailing past Cape Jackson, on the northeastern shore of New Zealand's south island, about 30 miles (48 km) northwest of Wellington. At 5:37 PM, travelling at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph), Mikhail Lermontov struck rocks about 5.5 metres (18 ft) below the waterline on its port side.

By 8:30 pm, passengers began to abandon ship, with the aid of the crew and local rescue vessels. The passengers were transferred to several ships in the area, including the LPG tanker Tarihiko (Captain Reedman) and the SeaRail road-rail ferry Arahura (Capt John Brew). As darkness set in MS Mikhail Lermontov listed further to starboard. Within 20 minutes of the last passenger being rescued, the ship had disappeared completely, sinking at approximately 10:27 PM, 4 hours and 50 minutes after running aground. The sinking resulted in only one casualty, 33-year-old crew engineer Pavel Zagladimov, who went down with the ship. The coroner's report lists his official cause of death as 'unknown', as his remains were never found. Eleven of those rescued had minor injuries. [5]


Interislander is a road and rail ferry service across New Zealand's Cook Strait, between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. It is owned and operated by state-owned rail operator KiwiRail. Three roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessels operate the 50 nautical miles route, taking about three hours to complete the crossing.

DEV <i>Arahura</i> ferry

DEV Arahura was a roll-on roll-off diesel-electric rail ferry completed in 1983 for the New Zealand Railways Corporation. She entered service across Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton in late 1983 and was retired from the Interislander fleet in July 2015.


Mikhail Lermontov in 1984 Michail Lermontow 1984.jpg
Mikhail Lermontov in 1984

MS Mikhail Lermontov rests where it sank, lying on its starboard side in depths reaching up to a maximum of about 38 metres (125 ft). It is popular with scuba divers and the site is served by local dive shops in Picton and Kaikoura. [6] It is also one of the biggest, easily accessible, diveable ship wrecks in the world. [7] The dives range from an easy 12 metres (39 ft) depth at the top of the wreck, through to deep penetration and decompression dives to depths of 36 metres (118 ft). It is possible to enter the wreck, especially in the open public areas accessible from the port side windows near the top of the wreck, although care must be taken and guides familiar with the wreck are highly recommended, especially for enclosed overhead environments and where entanglement hazards may exist. Closed circuit diving is recommended to avoid causing reduced visibility when entering enclosed areas such as restaurants, crew messes, and shopping arcades. Three divers are known to have died while exploring the ship, including one diver whose body is still possibly trapped inside. [8]

Kaikoura Minor urban area in Canterbury, New Zealand

Kaikoura is a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located on State Highway 1, 180 km north of Christchurch.

Cause as established by New Zealand inquiry

NIWA sonar image of Mikhail Lermontov resting on the seafloor. Mikhail Lermontov sonar.jpg
NIWA sonar image of Mikhail Lermontov resting on the seafloor.
Mikhail Lermontov lifeboat No. 10, on display in Picton. MS Mikhail Lermontov lifeboat no 10.jpg
Mikhail Lermontov lifeboat No. 10, on display in Picton.

The New Zealand preliminary inquiry report found that; "at the time of the grounding the ship's courses and speeds were being directed by Captain D.I. Jamison in the employ of the Marlborough Harbour Board as Harbourmaster and chief pilot." [9]

"The decision to direct the ship through the channel was made by Captain Jamison without consulting any other person at the time the ship was in position Lat 41˚ 01' 04" S Long 174 19' 30" E." [10]

"When Captain Jamison observed the passage between Cape Jackson and the Cape Jackson light house, to open up, he made a sudden decision to navigate the ship through that passage." [11]

The 1986 New Zealand Minister of Transport Richard Prebble later stated of the captain's actions, "why he decided to guide the ship over a passage that he actually knew was too shallow, I don't think he'll ever be able to answer." [12]

Cause as established by Soviet inquiry

The Soviet commission of inquiry concluded that; "Pilot Don Jamieson took a decision which was not justified by anything and gave a command to steer the ship through the dangerous for navigation passage between Cape Jackson and Jackson Head which must not be passed through because of insufficient depths for a ship of such draught." [13] Nevertheless, the Russian navigator, chief officer Sergey Stepanishchev was sent to prison for 4 years "with labor" and fined $US30,000 because he did not overrule the pilot [14] New Zealand Prime Minister at the time of the sinking, David Lange, called the sentence "totally absurd; it's an instance of totalitarian justice being metered out to a man who had no ... responsibility for steering the ship anywhere near Port Jackson. In fact, he'd been stood down in favour of Captain Jamison." [15]

Court case

The disaster was the subject of the celebrated Australian restitution case Baltic Shipping Company v Dillon (The Mikhail Lermontov) (1993) 176 CLR 344, in which Mrs Dillon, having already been awarded damages for loss to both her possessions and person, as well as a pro-rata refund on her cruise ticket, claimed restitution for the remaining value of her ticket on the basis of failure of consideration. Rejecting proposed analyses of the cruise as an entire obligation, and alternatively as a payment conditional on performance, the High Court re-affirmed the rule that failure of consideration must be total in order for a claim for restitution to be sustained. Simply put, Mrs Dillon could not deny the benefit she received during her first eight days on the cruise. Furthermore, the court, following earlier English authority, held that full damages and complete restitution will not be given for the same breach of contract. The now-abolished forms of action cast a long shadow: a claim for money had and received evolved from the writ of indebitatus assumpsit, a legal fiction that the parties had an implied agreement that upon discharge for breach or frustration that the subject matter of the original agreement would be returned. An alternative form of action lay in debt. In Holmes v Hall (1677) 2 Mod 260, it was recognised that where concurrent claims existed and a claim in assumpsit indebitatus was available, the claim in assumpsit operated to exclude other claims. In the 'modern' language of Dutch v Warren (1720) 1 Stra 406, '[the defendant] has given the plaintiff an option to disaffirm the contract, and recover the consideration he was paid for it in the same manner as if it had never existed....but then the contract must be totally rescinded...;since otherwise, the contract is affirmed by the plaintiff's having received part of that equivalent for which he has paid his consideration, and it is then reduced to a mere question of damages proportionate to the extent to which it remains unperformed.' [16]

See also


  1. 1 2 Asklander, Micke. "M/S Mikhail Lermontov (1972)". Fakta om Fartyg (in Swedish). Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  2. 1 2 Miller, William H. Jr. (1995). The Pictorial Encycpedia of Ocean Liners, 1860–1994. Mineola: Dover Publications. p. 74. ISBN   0-486-28137-X.
  3. "Mihail Lermontov". The Soviet Fleet. Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  4. ship profiles: Marco Polo, retrieved 22. 11. 2007
  5. Castell, Marcus. "The Last Cruise of the Mikhail Lermontov". The New Zealand Maritime Record. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  6. Go Dive Marlborough. "Wreck Diving in the Marlborough Sounds New Zealand". Go Dive. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
  7. "Marlborough Region". Jasons Travel Media.
  8. "New Zealand Divewrecks - dive the trail!!".
  9. Preliminary Inquiry into the grounding and subsequent founding of the cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, SJ Ponsford, 26 February 1986, , Concluding report Page 8, conclusion 3, NZ National Library.
  10. Preliminary Inquiry into the grounding and subsequent founding of the cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, SJ Ponsford, 26 February 1986, concluding report, Page 9 conclusion 6, NZ National Library.
  11. Preliminary Inquiry into the grounding and subsequent founding of the cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, SJ Ponsford, 26 February 1986, concluding report, Page 6 para 7, NZ National Library.
  12. NZ Herald, Lermontov sinking still lures conspiracy buffs, Ruth Hill, 16 February 2006
  13. Soviet commission of inquiry report, page 4, B.S. Maynagashev, undated
  15. "Destination Disaster: The Sinking of the Mikhail Lermontov" Documentary.
  16. (1720) 1 Stra. 406, at p 406 (93 ER 598, at p 599) Cases and Materials on the Law of Restitution, p274

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