Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Expedition into immortality

One hundred years since the Perseus, the first Soviet research vessel, was built

7 november 2022

On 7 November 1922, the Perseus, a two-masted ship, was completed and outfitted. It became the first research vessel of the Floating Marine Research Institute, later transformed into PRIMFO—the Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography. The Perseus was also the first Soviet vessel built specifically for marine research.

In the 1920s, the USSR faced daunting tasks: it was necessary to protect the natural wealth of the northern territories, develop the fishing industry and carry out systematic research in the Arctic seas. To this end, on 10 March 1921, the Floating Marine Research Institute—Plavmornin—was founded.

It was impossible to work in the Arctic without one's own research vessel and there were no funds to purchase one. It was helped by chance: the employees of Plavmornin were told that in the docks of Arkhangelsk, there was a wooden hull of an abandoned two-masted ship, which was to become a seagoing schooner.

Having obtained the transfer of the 'incomplete construction' to Plavmornin, the institute involved Arkhangelsk shipbuilders in the construction. Despite the hard times and lack of materials—for example, the steam engine had to be lifted from the tugboat, which sank in the Northern Dvina—the small ship, 41.5 metres long, managed to house 7 laboratories, a library, cabins for 24 crew members and 16 scientists.

On 7 November 1922, the building and equipping of the Perseus was completed. On 1 February 1923, the expedition flag with the stars of the constellation of the same name, created especially for the Perseus, was hoisted on the ship. In 1934, this flag became the official emblem of the newly established PRIMFO—the Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography.

In 1923, the Perseus sailed on its first expedition under the star flag. Before 1941, it managed to make more than 80 voyages to the White, Barents, Kara and Greenland seas, covering over 1,000 sea miles—that is five round-the-world voyages around the Earth. Perseus visited Svalbard 9 times, approached Franz Josef Land Archipelago 5 times, Novaya Zemlya Archipelago—12 times, rounded Jan Mayen Island in the Greenland Sea and almost reached the coast of Greenland.

Expeditions on the Perseus marked the beginning of a comprehensive study of the Arctic seas. The vessel became a platform for studying plankton, seabed organisms, fish, bottom topography and schools of fish. The data collected made it possible to discover new aggregations of commercial fish in the Barents Sea already in 1930.

"In fact, the expeditions on the Persey laid the foundation of our knowledge about the Barents Sea,' said Evgeny Sentyabov from the Polar branch of the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO).


In 1932–1933, the vessel was working under the programme of the Second International Polar Year. In 1935, it carried out the first oceanographic survey of the Barents Sea. And in 1939, for the first time in the USSR, the PRIMFO team used hydroacoustics on the Perseus to search for fish aggregations: the sonar sounder recorded the herring 'voices' at depths of 10 to 70 metres.

'Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine the fishing industry and fisheries science without modern hydroacoustic devices, so it is necessary to remember the pioneers,' noted Konstantin Sokolov, Deputy Head of the VNIRO's Polar branch. 

All the expeditions involved young scientists and students of various specialties, gaining deep practical knowledge. Perseus became a real maritime institute, where students from the best universities of the USSR aspired to enter. 

When the Great Patriotic War broke out, all the scientific ships were handed over to the Navy. On 10 July 1941, the Perseus was demolished by German air bombs in the Barents Sea while carrying cargo for the defenders of Rybachye. 

In memory of the first Perseus, for many years PRIMFO flagships carried its name—there were Perseus-2 and Perseus-3. And on the place where it was built in Arkhangelsk on 21 July 1979, an obelisk was unveiled. The inscription on the plaque reads, 'Here the Perseus, the USSR's first research vessel, was launched.'

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