Transferred to Ukraine on break-up of the Soviet Union, VARYAG had been purchased in 1998 by Chong Lot Travel Agency which proposed to convert it into a floating hotel and casino. In June 2000 tug SUHAILI with the carrier in tow, sailed from Nikolayev for what was estimated to be a 60-day routine voyage via the Suez Canal.
The VARYAG attracted wide public and media interest when the Turkish authorities refused permission for her passage through the Turkish Straits, basing themselves on the Montreux Convention of 1936, providing that only small navy surface vessels are allowed to pass. Additionally the total tonnage of navy ships in the Turkish Straits at any given moment should not exceed 15,000 tons, whereas the VARYAG alone displaces 35,000 tons. The Convention also empowers Turkey to deny passage to a vessel considered technically unsafe (VARYAG had no engines and no rudders). Intense Chinese diplomatic activity up to the level of the Prime Minister followed, and in late 2001 the Turkish authorities finally granted permission for passage on condition that a number of
precautions were taken. These included that a single, highly manoeuvrable tug of 200 tons bp should tow the VARYAG through the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara and Dardanelles with a single 240 tons bp tug as brake on the stern in addition to four harbour tugs. Escorted by several other tugs and fire-fighting vessels, the transit took place on 1 November 2001 with massive media attention.
NIKOLAY CHIKER had played the braking and steering role in guiding the VARYAG through Bosporus and Dardanelles, escorted by 27 vessels including 11 tugboats and three pilot craft.
Immediately after the passage, the transport encountered bad weather in the Aegean Sea. The towwire of the tug HAVILA CHAMPION parted, leaving the
VARYAG adrift in the Greek Archipelago. With little time left before stranding, the HAVILA CHAMPION managed to make an emergency connection. Also
SANDY CAPE, stationed off Crete, was sent to aid the transport. When weather and sea conditions had improved sufficiently, the main bridle of
the tow was retrieved and a secure towing connection was made. During the hand over of this towing connection to SOLANO, a serious accident
occurred aboard HAVILA CHAMPION, which very regrettably cost a seaman his life. SANDY CAPE managed to connect to the starboard side
emergency connection and the next day SOLANO was replaced by tug NIKOLAY CHIKER. At Chute, SANDY CAPE took bunkers,
NIKOLAY CHIKER's turn was at Las Palmas, and with both tugs fully bunkered the voyage continued towards the Cape of Good Hope. The VARYAG was
unwilling to go to China it seemed. With both rudders pushed over to starboard by the swell, she was trying to steer her own course, resulting in
poor manoeuvrability and loss of speed. Riding crew and tugs crews managed to reposition and re-secure the rudders when the swell died down enough to
permit safe boarding of the tow. In late December, the transport rounded the Cape of Good Hope, where the transport was joined by the Chinese tug SUI
JIU 201 as escort to China. Close to the south-west shore of Madagascar a bunker barge for refuelling of the tugs met the transport. Some depressions
developed into tropical storms and cyclones, but none came close enough to threaten the transport. A smooth Indian Ocean crossing allowed an early arrival at Singapore Roads, again for refuelling and this time also a crew change. Capt. Jan Dieleman relieved Capt. Paul Mengelder for the final leg of the voyage to
Dalian, China. In early March 627 days after the original departure of the SUHAILI the VARYAG was safely delivered at Dalian, ending a period of
long and intense negotiating, adjusting strategies and diplomatic efforts in a satisfactory fashion.