Russian “spy ship task group” reaches North Sea

After entering the Atlantic Ocean on their return home from Mediterranean tasking on February 19, a Russian task group composed of three ships has now passed the English Channel.

The Royal Navy announced on February 22 that it deployed patrol ship HMS Mersey and a Wildcat helicopter from RNAS Yeovilton to follow the progress of three Russian warships/vessels as they made their way up the Channel.

This is the third time the Royal Navy is escorting Russian Navy ships through the Channel in two months.

Ropucha-class landing ship Aleksandr Otrakovskiy, Vishnya-class intelligence ship (often referred to as spy ship) Feodor Golovin and Altay-class oiler Yelnya are returning to their Northern Fleet base after deploying as part of the Russian Navy’s permanent Mediterranean task force.

As they transited the Strait of Gibraltar on February 19 entering the Atlantic Ocean, the ships were escorted by Portuguese Navy corvette NRP António Enes.

Portsmouth-based Mersey and her 34 crew broke off from a regular fishery protection patrol in home waters and sailed to meet the Russian trio as they approached the Channel, taking over from the French Navy which has monitored the task group’s progress through the Bay of Biscay.

The patrol ship has spent 72 hours tracking the Russians as the vessels made their way into the North Sea, handing over to the Dutch Navy once the three ships had passed through the Strait of Dover. Belgian Navy patrol vessel BNS Pollux (P902) took over from there.

At the beginning of the year, frigate HMS Westminster was activated to keep track on the activities of two Russian frigates and their support vessels returning to the Baltic after operations in the Middle East, while HMS St Albans’ Christmas was interrupted by a mission to monitor the new Russian warship Admiral Gorshkov.

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