Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

We All Ride in a Russian Submarine

As Valery Semenkov envisions things, Russia's submarines can be a place where boy meets girl, where a well-stocked bar serves relaxed vacationers, and where large windows make riding a pleasure for all.


The Russian native of Riga, Latvia is currently making sales pitches for the "Tourist Submersible", a $4. 5 million, 32-passenger vehicle best suited for beautiful tropical waters. The same Severodvinsk factory that makes Russia's nuclear submarines will produce the vehicle upon demand.


"Everybody has flown in an airplane, but who has been in a submarine? " said Semenkov, vice president of Promtekhinkom, the firm authorized to sell the vehicles. "It will be even more interesting than a Jacques Cousteau film".


Along with the rest of the Russian armed forces, the Navy is undergoing heavy cutbacks these days, and weapons factories are looking for new ways to profit from their existing technologies. Not only has the Russian Navy dramatically slowed its submarine production of late, but in some cases, it is selling off its old submarines for scrap metal.


So far, Semenkov has built only one tourist sub, which has been used in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua since May 1992, he said. A local firm rents the vehicle for $85, 000 a year, and charges $100 for a seat on one-hour tours.


Promtekhinkom has made initial contacts with other firms in Latin America, Australia, the Philippines, and Israel, and is searching for ways to connect with other foreign purchasers.


A ride in the sub sounds like a cross between "10, 000 Leagues Under the Sea" and a singles bar.


The craft slowly putters along at a speed of 10 kilometers an hour, allowing a calm view of fish and undersea life. Lamps poised on the top of the sub enhance the view, a necessary feature since the deep sea weakens even the strongest of tropical sunlight. For the interpid, a special cabin is set aside for scuba divers hoping to leave the vessel for a closer look.


But there is entertainment of a different sort for those who stay on board.


"You can drink a bit", he said, flicking his finger onto his neck in the classic Russian gesture symbolizing alcohol. "You can also meet women".


At the same time Promekhinkom is spreading its sales pitch, the Russian Navy has begun to speak openly about previously undisclosed submarine collisions, the most recent of which occurred in March. Although obviously counterproductive to selling tourist submarines, the navy has mentioned these occurrences in an effort to spark international agreements on sharing information about submarine operations.


Asked about the safety of the Tourist Submersible, Semenkov said it poses do danger at all, and he promised purchasers safety certificates proving seaworthiness. A primitive error-prone brochure produced by the company also promises smooth operations.


"The prime consideration of design in any submersible is safaty and reliable operation", it reads with one of many English-language errors. Attention to safety will, the brochure concludes, provide "peac of mind".


Anyway, Semenkov added reassuringly, the submersible is equipped with the same "black box" airplanes have, which would record the crew's last minutes if anything terrible were to happen to the craft.