Russian Navy captain warns Royal Navy frigate to back off in stand-off at sea

Vice-Admiral Kulakov was manoeuvring 'towards Faslane' when HMS Northumberland scrambled to intercept.

A Russian Navy captain issued a warning to a Royal Navy frigate for sailing too close during an operation in the Irish Sea, it has been revealed.

The incident occurred in late 2020 and involved HMS Northumberland, a type 23 frigate, and the Vice-Admiral Kulakov, an Udaloy-class destroyer of the Russian Navy.

The story has come to light thanks to a Channel 5 documentary – WARSHIP: Life At Sea.

Last month, Forces News reported on a collision between the same Royal Navy ship and a Russian submarine in the North Atlantic.

This new incident unfolded after the Russian vessel entered the Irish Sea and sailed 'towards Faslane' in a manoeuvre described by HMS Northumberland’s captain as ‘unprecedented’.

Vice-Admiral Kulakov as seen from HMS Northumberland (Picture Artlab/Channel 5).

The position of Vice-Admiral Kulakov in the Irish Sea and its distance from Faslane, the home of Britain's trident nuclear submarines, led HMS Northumberland's captain to act.

"They will take as much as they can until someone draws a line and forces them to stop."

On the programme, he said: “They will take as much as they can until someone draws a line and forces them to stop. So here I am drawing a line and saying, 'you don't get to be near the UK without being followed'."

The captain of the Royal Navy frigate is seen ordering his ship to close up at maximum speed to within one mile of the Vice-Admiral Kulakov, a distance usually considered too close in international waters. The Warship TV narrator explains that "this close to Faslane, normal rules don't apply".

Another officer on the bridge is then heard confirming to the captain that HMS Northumberland is "now at one mile" distance from the Russian ship.

The Russian ship's captain is heard on Northumberland's radio, calling on the Royal Navy ship to back off to a safer distance.

The Russian captain said: "This is warship 626. Keep safe distance, no less than two nautical miles."

The message is then repeated.

The RN captain responds: "That is understood. Sir, it is my intention to maintain a safe and professional distance from you."

Following the exchange, the captain of HMS Northumberland decides to de-escalate and moves his ship away to the more standard distance of two miles.

A Royal Navy source downplayed the seriousness of the incident, adding the matter was "nothing extraordinary".

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: "It is entirely routine for ships to communicate on the radio. Open dialogue between ships avoids uncertainty and assures the safe passage of vessels involved."