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 Montreaux 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' was a dead ship without engines). 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 maneuverable powerful tug should tow the 'Varyag' through the Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara and Dardanelles with a single 240 ton bollard pull tug as a break on the stern in addition to four harbor tugs. Escorted by several other tugs and fire-fighting vessels, the transit took place on 1 November 2001 with massive media attention. ITC tug 'Solano' escorted the vessel during the passage.
Immediately after the passage, the transport encountered bad weather in the Aegean Sea. The tow wire 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 bride of the tow was made. During the hand over of this towing connection to 'Solano', a serious accident occurred aboard 'Havila Champion', which 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 the Russian tug 'Nikolay Chiker'. At Ceuta, '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 maneuverability and loss of speed. Riding crew and tugs managed to reposition and re-secure the rudders when the swell died down enough to permit safe boarding of the tow.
In late December 2001, 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 refueling 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 refueling 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 2002 - 627 days after the original departure of the 'Suhali' - the 'Varyag' was safely delivered at Dalian, ending a period of long and intense negotiating, adjusting strategies and diplomatic efforts in a satisfactory fashion.