Zelenodolsk shipyards being set for cruise sailing

Zelenodolsk Shipyard may become the lead contractor for the construction of 10 cruise ships of mixed type

Zelenodolsk shipyards being set for cruise sailing
Photo: Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation's press service

As it became known to Realnoe Vremya, Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation is preparing to sign a strategic cooperation agreement on the construction of river-sea class passenger ships developed by the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau (ZPKB) at the upcoming Neva international exhibition. The cost of the cruise ship is estimated from 1,6 billion to 2 billion rubles — this is one and a half times less than the budget of the flagship ship Mustai Karim, built for the first time in 60 years in the country (it began sailing in 2020). According to Renat Mistakhov, the director general of Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation, a vessel in this price range (up to 2 billion) is more promising from the point of view of commercial operation, and leasing is supposed to be carried out through the operators of the State Transport Leasing Company (GTLK) or Mashpromleasing. Who is going to act as the customer of the Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation's motor ships will become known immediately before the signing of the agreement in St. Petersburg.

Ak Bars's three-decked vessel debutes at International Maritime Defence Show

Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation aimed to “moor” to the most, perhaps, risky pole of civil shipbuilding — cruise river vessels. In Russia, they were not built before the Mustai Karim ship, which was launched last year. This cruise river liner has been built in the country for the first time in the last 60 years. Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation has made an attempt to come out with its own project.

As it became known to Realnoe Vremya, the debut show of the sketch of the passenger ship developed by the Zelenodolsk Design Bureau (part of Ak Bars) took place at the International Maritime Defence Show in St. Petersburg. Along with the demonstration of the small-size missile ship Zeleniy Dol from the Buyan-M series and another small-size missile ship from the Karakurt series, the corporation showed a three-deck passenger ship in a preliminary design.

The passenger ship of the RV 17400 project is designed for making trips along rivers and coastal zones of the seas — it is a “pure” river vessel, but with the possibility of completion for going to sea. The only mixed-navigation motor ship today is the Mustai Karim, built two years ago by order of the Vodohod travel company at the Krasnoe Sormovo plant in Nizhny Novgorod. But in terms of displacement, the Tatarstan motor ship will be almost half the size of the Mustai Karim, which is considered the largest cruise ship in the country. By the way, a record budget was spent on its construction, and the cost of the vessel amounted to 3,2 billion rubles.

If we compare it with a four-deck liner, then the Tatarstan vessel can most likely be ranked as a four-or three-star hotel on the water. Its capacity is 170 seats, average swimming speed is 24-25 km/h, and the range of autonomous navigation is up to 2,000 km (reliance is on a larger payload). The cost of the vessel is estimated from 1,6 billion to 2 billion rubles.

Along with the demonstration of the small-size missile ship Zeleniy Dol from the Buyan-M series and another small-size missile ship from the Karakurt series, the corporation showed a three-deck passenger ship in a preliminary design. Photo: sk-akbars.ru

Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Yury Borisov appreciated the civil “novelty” of Ak Bars at the International Maritime Defence Show. Before that, he regularly came to Zelenodolsk to lay down military vessels for the needs of the Navy and in every possible way pushed the enterprise to diversify construction. The ZPKB project caused a certain stir among shipbuilding companies, since few are engaged in this topic due to large production and financial risks. It is known that many Russian shipbuilders who made the keel-laying of river vessels failed to launch them.

Application for the replacement of 40-year-old motor ships of “old” Europe

Renat Mistakhov, the director general of Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation JSC, told Realnoe Vremya why he got involved in this completely new project. First of all, he connects his future with the renewal of the river fleet, which will inevitably come, the interlocutor of the publication believes. According to him, we need to be ready to offer an alternative.

“This topic arised after our repeated meetings and negotiations with potential operators. Cruise carriers, including Vodokhod, show a keen interest in ships of this class, that is, with a displacement of up to 2,4 tonnes. It is well known that the current fleet of ships is morally and physically outdated: these are foreign motor ships of the 1960-70s, which were supplied to us from the Czech Republic, the GDR, Hungary. Every year they hardly reach the rivers, having ceased to meet the requirements of safety and comfort. They have 40 years of “experience” and more. What do we want next? Certainly, they undergo technical re-examination every year, but only for a short period of operation," Renat Mistakhov explained.

The name of the launch customer of the future Tatarstan motor ships has not yet been disclosed. Practical negotiations with them were held within the framework of the International Maritime Defence Show 2021 in St. Petersburg. “There is a real carrier that has formed a technical task for the construction of river vessels for us. By their order, an exclusive project has been developed, a technical statement with the composition of the equipment is being formed, on which the cost of the vessel depends," the head of the corporation said.

When calculating the cost, they are based on the customer's price targets. “We proceed from that it should be within 1,6-2 billion rubles," said Mistakhov. “In this version, the serial production of 10 vessels is being discussed," he outlined long-term plans. Currently, work is underway to minimise the cost of the supplied equipment and interior decoration of the vessel (they account for up to 30% of the costs) to meet the specified parameters. It is expected that the formation of the vessel's budget will be completed in August. In September, at the Neva international civil shipbuilding exhibition in St. Petersburg, Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation intends to sign an agreement on strategic cooperation with future partners, Mistakhov said.

“All the vessels that are operated on the rivers today were built in Europe (Czech Republic, Poland, GDR). These are not our buildings," the general director of Ak Bars Shipbuilding Corporation explains the complexity of working on them. “We are redeveloping this niche. To understand what is needed, all the ships of the old construction have been studied. The technical planning work was carried out competently in them. We have no such experience. It must be gained.”

Reaching the contract — 2023

However, the construction financing scheme depends on the percentage of leasing offers. “We will not immediately switch to the contract, we need a financing tool," explains Mistakhov. “The next step will be taken in 2022. Then we expect to start pre-contract work when a model for financing the construction of motor ships is chosen," he plans.

We are talking about attracting funds from leasing companies — GTLK or Mashpromleasing, which by their status are aimed at updating the fleet. According to their terms, the carrier must guarantee the placement of order within Russia, and in return they get a preferential lease at 2,5% per annum. In this sense, the “Neva agreement” of Ak Bars should become a prologue to the signing of the leasing deal. On the other hand, it is possible that federal money may be attracted under national projects.

“It is difficult for a private company to provide transportation: they need financial instruments, leasing at 2,5% per annum and support in the form of subsidies," says Mistakhov. “In turn, he will confirm that he will update the fleet in terms of building ships in Russia. We also discussed this topic at the Maritime Defence Show — they [operators] said that if the business model pays off within 10 years, then they will be ready to support it.”

The first was a pleasure-excursion gas-powered vessel Chaika, which was built under a leasing contract with the GTLK. Photo: Maksim Platonov

“Civil” portfolio of shipbuilders

Zelenodolsk Shipyard JSC, controlled by Ak Bars holding company, resumed the construction of civil vessels in 2018. Since then, it has received firm orders for five mixed-type vessels in its portfolio.

The first was a pleasure-excursion gas-powered vessel Chaika, which was built under a leasing contract with the GTLK. Its cost was over 370 million rubles. Two modifications are possible — for 150 and 200 seats. It is expected that Tatflot will become its operator. At the same time, negotiations are underway for the construction of a second vessel of this class. The head of Yakutia showed interest in it, and the head of the Lena River Shipping Company PJSC has been instructed to study the offer.

This year, the Gorky Shipyard won the contract of Severrechflot JSC for the supply of two Meteor-2020 vessels of the 03830 project worth 820 million rubles. They are built on the terms of preferential leasing under the state programme “Development of shipbuilding and equipment for the development of offshore fields for 2013-2030". Both ships will operate on the Khanty-Mansiysk-Berezovo route. The delivery date is October 2022.

Another contract has been signed for the construction of a multifunctional rescue tug with a capacity of 4 MW of the MPSV07 project for the Maritime Rescue Service. Its customer was the Directorate of the State Customer FSI. The cost is classified information, it is forbidden to disclose.

This year, there are many sailings departing from Kazan on the flagship of the company Mustai Karim of the Luxury class. Photo: bashinform.ru

Mustai Karim is coming to Kazan

“The cruise tourist flow in Kazan is high," Vodokhod cruise company told Realnoe Vremya. “Due to the high demand for cruises from Kazan and calls in Kazan, the company decided to increase the number of cruises and ships of an increased level of comfort in this direction. The motor ships of the VodokhoD.Premium and Vodokhod.Lux class this year go from Kazan on a regular basis, as well as the Vodokhod class. A total of 12 motor ships of the company will run with a call or departure from Kazan.”

The company plans for this navigation period — 125 ship calls to Kazan. For comparison — in 2019, its ships made more than 80 ship calls to Kazan. This year, there are many cruises departing from Kazan on the flagship of the company Mustai Karim of the Lux class — the newest cruise ship of the PV300 project, which was built at the Krasnoe Sormovo shipyard in Nizhny Novgorod by order of Vodokhod PLC. As mentioned above, this is the first passenger ship built in the last 60 years in Russia. Also in the company's fleet, there are motor ships that are fixed in this direction and most of their departures are from Kazan. One of them is the Alexander Suvorov motor ship.

Luiza Ignatyeva
Tatarstan