Russian ‘spy ship’ stopped in North Sea over energy sabotage attempt

Royal Navy tracks Russian ship along the English Channel

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A Russian “spy ship” has been intercepted off the coast of Belgium and the Netherlands near wind farms in the North Sea where it allegedly tried to “disrupt” Europe’s energy system. The vessel was spotted entering Belgian and Dutch territorial waters in recent months before being detected and escorted by the Dutch coastguard and the Navy. Both countries have since warned about what appears to be Russia’s covert operation to map and prepare acts of sabotage against Europe’s energy infrastructure.

Jan Swillens, head of the Dutch intelligence service, said: “What we have seen in recent months is that Russian actors are trying to understand how the energy supply in the North Sea is organised, with the intention of disrupting it.

“The attempt has not been successful,” he added, without giving further details.

However, he warned: “Russia will most likely remain a threat to The Netherlands”.

According to a report from Dutch intelligence agencies, Russia is “covertly mapping” important infrastructure in the North Sea, such as gas pipelines and wind farms, ahead of potential acts of sabotage.

The presence of the Russian vessels in the North Sea close to wind farms, underwater gas pipelines and communication cables also raised alarm bells among Belgian officials who opened an investigation into the ship’s activities.

Belgian Minister for the North Sea said the vessel was detected in the Belgian North Sea around mid-November last year in a statement headlined: “Russian spy ship off our coast in November”.

While the presence of Russian ships in the North Sea is not banned, Belgium said that it was closely monitoring the situation in light of the conflict in Ukraine.

Vincent Van Quickenborne said: “We don’t know the exact motives of this Russian ship, but we can’t be naive. Especially if it behaves suspiciously in the vicinity of our wind farms, gas pipelines, undersea data cables and other critical infrastructure.

“We are taking the necessary measures to better secure them.”

Since last November, the country has enforced camera surveillance at sea with mobile cameras on drones or ships to monitor suspicious sea activity.

On January 11, NATO and the EU launched a cooperative working group to improve the defence of their vital infrastructure in Europe against Russian threats.

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The group was formed in the wake of a series of clandestine bombings and subsequent underwater gas leaks that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September of last year.

Both pipelines, which were constructed to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, were wholly controlled by the Russian-owned gas firm Gazprom. Since the explosions, the identities of the saboteurs and their objectives have remained unknown. Several Western officials have accused Russia of carrying out the attack.

Moscow has not commented on the Dutch and Belgian reports about the ship.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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