FEATURE: Kalashnikov Group to handle passenger traffic from Sochi to Crimea
Russia’s Industry Minister Denis Manturov has surprisingly offered the contract to manage civilian passenger traffic in the Azov-Black Sea basin to the Kalashnikov Group, one of the world’s largest arms manufacturers.
Speaking at a governmental meeting recently, the minister claimed that the ministry is currently working on a comprehensive programme for the development of passenger traffic between the country’s key resorts in Crimea and Krasnodar Krai. The program is to begin immediately after it is adopted, which is expected in late 2017, Manturov said.
Within the programme, the Kalashnikov Group’s role can be likened to that of an “integrator”, he added, meaning the weapons manufacturer would take over the entire project, from construction of the new vessels to determining the schedule and the pricing policy on the routes.
Russia’s government has been planning to establish passenger vessel operations in the Azov-Black Sea basin since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but no noticeable progress in this area has yet been made. This is at least partly believed to be the result of international sanctions, which scare many investors away from participating in projects related to Crimea.
Kalashnikov has been already subject to these sanctions, which affected plans to open a production plant in the United States.
Back in 2015, the Russian Government, with the regional authorities of Krasnodar Krai, set up some ferries to go between the major resorts in the region, including Sochi, Balaklava, Simferopol and Gelendzhik, but the loading level at those routes on average was only just over 10 per cent, so they were almost immediately cancelled.
Manturov did not explain why the Kalashnikov Group was considered for the project. The company has recently expanded its business into manufacturing, casual wear and other areas, however, there is no official information to suggest it has ever been engaged in the passenger ferry trade.
In early August 2017, Russia’s Vice Prime Ministry Dmitry Rogozin revealed that Kalashnikov had recently made good progress on the design of high-speed passenger vessels, which could be used to organise traffic between Crimea and Russia’s south.
Kalashnikov could place orders for the construction of these vessels at Crimean shipyards, Rogozin noted, however he did not specify when he expected this to happen.
Vladislav Vorotnikov is Baird Maritime's Russian correspondent.