The ships of the Baikal fleet become a part of the landscape
The burial ground of ships in the port of Baikal has already become the face of the port. Rusty ships of different tonnage and construction are moored to each other on the road to the port. One can even see bushes and grass growing there, birds make nests there - people hardly ever visit the cemetery of vessels.
The port's chief, Vladimir Volkovsky, easily enumerated the names of all ships on the ground. The list of victims started with the freight vessel Sarma that used to navigate in Lake Baikal about 15 years ago. Now the vessel is completely rusty and rotten. The fueling ship Maikon is next to the Sarma. One may only guess the past purpose of the vessels with the size of deck terminals and captain cabins arrangement. There are also big cargo vessels - the Balkhash and the Kombur: they used to tow rafts of merchantable wood and took part in scientific expeditions to explore and drill the Baikal shelf. The last place on the list of dead ships is taken by Barge-2501. It used to transport thousands tons of coal, but now it is absolutely useless.
"This is not the entire useless fleet that we have, - the chief of the port says. - Downstream the Angara river, about four kilometers far, one can find ten barges. All those vessels were launched in the middle of the 1970s and were meant to transport cargoes to the town of Nizhneangarsk, for the construction of the BAM railway. The fleet was used at its full capacity until the beginning of the 1980s, the volume of transportation was huge. When the BAM railway started running, the transportation dropped considerably. Baikal is a closed water system, so it is simply impossible to find a use to so many vessels, they cannot be moved anywhere, that is why they were left here. At first we thought to use them for metal scrap, but it did not prove to be profitable. I have been trying to get rid of these heaps of useless metal for long, but it seems to me it is not going to happen soon."
Useless ships did not become the inseparable part of the Baikal Port's landscape at once. As a rule, the abandoned property does not enjoy any respect in Russia - it disappears for good. Port residents contributed greatly to it, when they stole and sold all possible non-ferrous parts of the ships. The looting of the state property continued for more than one year and was finally over, when there was nothing left to steal. Probably, people would cut and dismantle the hulls of the ships too, if they had such a possibility.
However, the Baikal fleet is not dead, it has been slowly reviving lately. The gorgeous Vampilov ship sets on a cruise on a weekly basis. One of the oldest vessels of Baikal, the Komsomolets (built in 1963), is expected to come from the city of Irkutsk soon. The vessel Sevan is being currently repaired - it will become a part of the Baikal fleet in the nearest future too. Small tourist boats navigate daily together with high-speed passenger vessels. Freight ships are still used to transport coal and wood between Baikal ports, although the present transportation volume pales in comparison with past.
The personnel of the Baikal fleet has changed a lot during the recent years. Some people are still devoted to their service, others were hired by private fishing enterprises for economic reasons.