Issues Archive

July/August 2009 Vol. 13
No. 4
 The Thetis  



This August marks the second anniversary of the death of Peter Mikheichik, a popular and experienced engineer at the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fishery and Oceanography whose life was cut short by a tragic accident at sea 

Two years ago, on the morning of 3 August 2007, the Italian oceanographic research vessel Thetis was operating in shallow waters, some eight kilometres off the west coast of Sicily, near the port of Mazara-del-Vallo. The scientists and engineers working on board Thetis were testing new oceanographic equipment designed for use in a joint Russian-Italian project. Amongst these was 53-year-old Peter Mikheichik, a leading engineer at the Oceanographic Measuring Systems Laboratory of VNIRO, the All-Russian Federal Research Institute of Fishery and Oceanography.

At 11.15am local time, the 32-metre Thetis was struck by the giant 295-metre Panamanian container ship Elleni, which was sailing from Israel to Spain. The impact was so severe, that not only was the Thetis almost cut in half, but she also sank within the space of a few minutes, with the tragic loss of Peter Mikheichik.

The disaster happened without warning, despite the coastal navigation authorities having been notified previously of Thetis' planned week-long survey. 

On the morning of that fateful day, with the survey work almost competed, Thetis had been drifting parallel to the shore. A mist had gradually begun to spread over the sea. Peter Mikheichik was in his laboratory conducting tests with a ‘Trap-7' laser plankton counter (a VNIRO instrument, for which he had been a main design contributor), while his two Russian colleagues were conducting acoustic surveys elsewhere on the vessel. Their Italian companions were also occupied with deployment of plankton nets. 

The Sicilian Navigation Service revealed that the Elleni struck Thetis at a speed of between 25 and 30 knots directly where Peter Mikheichik was working in his laboratory. According to the Italian survivors, the weather was misty and while they were conducting their measurements they were suddenly aware of a large shadow. They then found themselves in the water without realising what had happened. The container ship Elleni had continued its passage without decreasing speed. 

Peter Mikheichik was an experienced engineer who had tested new oceanographic equipment on numerous fisheries vessel cruises. He also participated in scientific expeditions on board prominent Russian research vessels such as Vityaz, Academician Nesmeyanov, Academician Lavrent'ev, Professor Schtockman, Academician Boris Petrov and the Yushmorgeologia. 

It was a tragic irony that having sailed across many seas and oceans, in storms and foul weather, Peter Mikheichik should die when the Thetis was almost ‘becalmed' in the azure waters of the Mediterranean.



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