Photos and a video have emerged purporting to show the Russian cruiser Moskva shortly before the ship sank in the Black Sea.
In the images, which have not been independently confirmed, a plume of black smoke is seen rising from the heavily damaged Moskva, which was reported to have been hit by a Ukrainian missile strike last week.
The images show that the ship’s lifeboats have been deployed and there are no sailors visible on deck, suggesting the ship may have been abandoned. In the images, the Moskva is listing to port as two fire-hoses shoot streams of water into the air.
A three-second video filmed from a nearby ship appears to show a rescue tug approaching the burning Moskva. The short recording ends abruptly as a man nearby yells: “What the fuck are you doing?”
Several military analysts consulted by the Guardian said the images looked consistent with the Moskva but that the photographs would require independent confirmation. The source of the photos and the video is unknown and it was first brought to public attention by Osint researchers following the Russian war in Ukraine.
“I believe the video is real. What we see shape, size. It is the Moskva,” Yörük Işık, a journalist and expert ship spotter who photographs Russian warships traveling through the Bosphorus , told the Guardian.
He said he believed at least one of the photographs was taken from a Project 22870 rescue tugship, of which Russia is believed to have two in the Black Sea. The Moskva was being towed toward the Sevastopol port when it sank, the Russian defense ministry has said. “These tugs are always around whatever the other warships are engaged,” he said in a message.
The Russian defense ministry has released very little information about how the ship sank, claiming the damage to the boat was sustained in an accident on board. The Ukrainian government, along with western intelligence officials, say that the ship was hit by several Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.
HI Sutton, a naval analyst and author, wrote that the “damage does not rule out a missile strike(s), and it remains the likely cause. Possible puncture marks in the side of the hull are visible below where the fire is. But these would need closer examination to confirm whether they were caused by missiles, or are simply fire damage.”
The Russian government claims that the ship sank in “stormy seas” while being towed to the port of Sevastopol. But the location of the fire could suggest that it reached the anti-ship or anti-air missiles, causing a “catastrophic explosion”, Sutton wrote. There had previously been unconfirmed media reports of a large explosion aboard the ship.
The Russian government also has not confirmed any information about the number of casualties from the incident, releasing just a short video clip of the Russian Navy’s top brass meeting with some members of the crew.
The absence of lifeboats onboard would suggest a considerable number of the crew could have been rescued.
“All of the aft life raft canisters have been jettisoned, although one remains on the aft deck,” Sutton wrote. “This suggests that the crew have already abandoned ship at this point.”
But other reports in Russian independent media on Monday suggest that up to 200 sailors could have been wounded in the attack on the ship. The ship was reported to have around 500 crew on board.