man on a ship
Image: José Sena Goulão/ Lusa

Portuguese ships continue to ‘escort’ Russian vessels through Portuguese waters

Russian ships cited for “spying on underwater cabling with a view to sabotage” 

Portuguese naval patrol boats have been busy again this week monitoring the passage of yet another Russian ship as it navigate through Portuguese waters.

This time it was the RFS Mercuriy – described as “of the Steregushchiy class (…) sailing in transit off the Portuguese mainland coast”.

Said the Navy in a statement: “Since 16 August, the NRP ‘Figueira da Foz’ and the NRP ‘Dragão’ have accompanied and monitored the Russian Federation ship ‘RFS Mercuriy (…) the monitoring of Russian naval units stems from the defence of national interests and the exercise of State authority at sea” and “also contributes to Portugal’s commitment to the Alliance’s collective effort to maintain maritime situational awareness“.

As was highlighted earlier this year, Russia is reportedly mapping the location of critical infrastructures in Europe and the United States, including underwater cables used to transmit the bulk of transatlantic communications.

The information stems from a Danish investigation in April which suggested the bottom line plan is to sabotage the cables, along with other critical infrastructure, “in an effort to cause disruption to life in the West and gain advantage against countries that are supporting Ukraine”.

It is a message that has been taken seriously in Portugal. Admiral of the fleet Henrique Gouveia e Melo said in March that the Russian ship that sparked a ‘mutiny’ on Portuguese naval vessel Mondego, was in fact spying on cables running along the coast of Madeira.

He told reporters, the Akademik Tryoshnikov was “tracking and measuring undersea cables and undersea cable infrastructure (…) We have to be concerned about the military significance of this”. 

But as none of this activity is ‘overt’, and the Russian ships ostensibly always have an innocuous mission, all that authorities can do is ‘accompany and monitor’.

Since the dismal episode involving the Mondego in March, there have been several other occasions where the Navy has to scramble ships to ‘escort’ Russian vessels as they traverse national waters.

Last week, it was the Kildin, an electronic intelligence gathering ship, part of the Black Sea Fleet, again ostensibly ‘navigating in transit’ off the mainland coast.

[email protected]