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Russia Suspected in Nearly 1,000 Espionage Incidents Targeting Critical Infrastructure in the North Sea


A joint investigation by De Tijd and Follow the Money reveals that Russian civilian vessels have been implicated in nearly 1,000 suspicious incidents of espionage near vital infrastructure in the North Sea. This includes data transmission cables, electrical and radio communications, as well as oil and gas pipelines resting on the seabed. NATO conducts exercises in these waters, making them strategically significant.

Russian tactics reportedly involve a range of vessels such as research ships, cargo vessels, oil tankers, and even recreational yachts. Instances of suspicious behavior include deliberate deviations from planned routes or sudden speed reductions, often accompanied by disabling Automatic Identification System (AIS) signals to evade detection.

The suspected espionage activities extend to the use of submersibles capable of cutting cables at depths of several kilometers, as seen aboard the “Yantar”. Such maneuvers have raised concerns among European coast guards, who have discovered surveillance devices, underwater drones, and hydroacoustic signal scanners used for mapping the sea floor and identifying cables.

However, combating this form of espionage is challenging due to limitations imposed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which restricts actions to monitoring vessels or conducting inspections only in extreme cases. Thomas De Spiegeleire, spokesman for the Directorate General of Shipping, noted the difficulty, stating that even when suspicions arise, law enforcement lacks authority to arrest without explicit criminal violations under local laws.

The escalation of these activities since 2014, amidst heightened tensions, echoes Cold War-era tactics employed by Russia. Recent incidents, including a sabotage attempt on the “Nord Stream” gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea in 2022, underscore growing security concerns across the region.

In a related incident, photos from a police investigation were released earlier, revealing the extent of the damage caused by Russian ships recorded trawling back and forth on top of the main fiber optic internet cable between Svalbard and the Norwegian mainland in 2022.

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