Navy

Royal Navy Escorts Nine Russian Warships Close To UK

Three Royal Navy ships took part in the mission following what the Navy described as "heightened Russian activity".

The Royal Navy has escorted nine Russian warships through waters near the UK.

HMS Mersey and HMS Tyne joined HMS Westminster to monitor three Steregushchiy-class corvettes, three Ropucha-class landing ships and three missile-armed patrol boats.

The ships joined NATO allies from Portugal, Canada, Germany, Norway and Denmark in tracking the Russian vessels through some of the busiest sea lanes in the world.

According to the Navy, the Russian ships had sailed out of the Baltic Sea and into the North Sea for large-scale exercises following their Navy Day last month.

"While the Russian Navy operated in a safe and professional manner, HMS Westminster combined with NATO-allied units across the North Sea and Baltic Sea to escort them throughout," said Commander Will Paston, Commanding Officer of HMS Westminster.

The Royal Navy warships used in the mission were assigned to the very high readiness Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, responsible for patrolling the waters of northern Europe.

They worked closely with Portuguese frigate NRP Corte-Real – the task group’s flagship – and Halifax-class frigate HMCS Toronto of the Royal Canadian Navy.

HMS Westminster joined NRP Corte-Real in the north, monitoring the Russian missile-armed patrol boats.

Under the control of Canada's HMCS Toronto, HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey shadowed the Russian corvettes and landing ships as they headed south towards the English Channel, the Navy said.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker RFA Tideforce was also used in the mission.

HMS Tyne was tasked with escorting Russian ships heading towards the Channel (Picture: Royal Navy).
HMS Tyne was tasked with escorting Russian ships heading towards the Channel (Picture: Royal Navy).

Commander (Retired) Tom Sharpe, who served for 27 years in the Royal Navy, commanding four warships and working as the defence secretary’s spokesman for naval matters, said the shadowing of Russian ships "happens quite a lot" and the Navy will "always send ships out to monitor their activities".

Mr Sharpe said the shadowing operations offer an opportunity to gather good information on how the ships operate.

"What it allows you to do is to spot if something unusual is happening, [and] if there is a departure from the norm, you know what the norm is," he said.

"Going to meet these guys, it’s all very diplomatic and it's normally very, very cordial and professional, but it’s really what the Navy is for."

He also added while the Russian vessels might sometimes come close to the UK, it is "really nothing to be worried about".

"The Dover Strait is only 24 miles wide so if they're coming down through that gap, they're going to be very, very close to the UK and that's fine because it's an international trade route, the shortest route from Russia to the Mediterranean, so there's really no issue with that," he said.

"When they anchor in the Moray Firth, up in the North East coast of Scotland, quite often that's to shelter from the weather.

"Sometimes they get reasonably close to the 12-mile limit and that could be construed as provocative and when you look at it on a map or a chart, it definitely looks slightly uncomfortable but it's really nothing to worry about.

"If they come inside 12 miles, that’s our national limit, then that’s a problem but otherwise they are going to come close - they have to to get past the UK," he said.

This latest operation comes after HMS Mersey and Tyne tracked RFS Admiral Kulakov as it headed into the North Sea and through the English Channel earlier this month.

Cover image: HMS Mersey escorting Russian Ropucha-class landing ship tanks through the North Sea (Picture: Royal Navy).