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Russian ‘ghost ships’ prepare to sabotage Britain’s critical energy infrastructure in North Sea
19 April 2023, 15:53 | Updated: 19 April 2023, 16:17
Russian spy ships are charting vulnerabilities in the North Sea as part of plans to sabotage Britain’s energy infrastructure in case of war, investigation shows.
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An investigation by Scandinavian broadcasters has revealed that Russian “ghost ships” have been documenting Europe’s energy infrastructures to source potential weaknesses in the event of war.
These are believed to include Britain’s offshore wind turbines, underwater data cables and other pieces of critical infrastructure the UK is reliant on.
Revealed in Shadow War, a documentary series produced by four Scandinavian public service broadcasters, they identified roughly 50 Russian ships charting the North Sea.
The ships are often disguised as research vessels and fishing trawlers, according to the journalists across Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway.
These vessels often turn off their automatic identification system transponders (AIS), which makes them invisible to ship-tracking services and only identifiable through other tracking techniques, such as satellite imagery.
After tracking a number of the Russian vessels though the Baltic and North seas, the journalists approached one of the ships marked as conducting scientific research – only to find a man wearing a balaclava and wielding an assault rifle.
The broadcasters have suggested the ship could be the Admiral Vladimirsky, which is officially registered as an oceanographic research vessel.
Reports from a former UK Royal Navy expert say the ship was also tracked near seven wind farms off the cost of the UK and the Netherlands.
Senior intelligence officials from a Danish site said the ships could be mapping the water in case of war.
They said: “In the event of a conflict with the West, they will be ready and know where to intervene if they wish to paralyse Danish society.”
European intelligence agencies are closely monitoring the Russian vessels.
The Dutch equivalent of MI5 and MI6, named AIVD, have warned in the past about threats from Russians charting installations in the North Sea.
Last autumn, a Russian ship was intercepted near a wind farm charting European installations in the North Sea and another entered Dutch and Belgian waters.
Following this, the Dutch intelligence services accused Moscow of “trying to map what the Dutch energy supply looks like”.
It also follows the bombing of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea last September, which were built to increase gas exports towards Europe.
While the perpetrator of the pipeline attack has not been officially identified, a number of images taken by the Danish military show a Russian ship lurking near the site of the explosion just four days before.
A British defence source, however, has emphasised they “track all foreign vessels when they go through our areas of interest” and that this new information does not indicate a serious risk to British security.