Royal Navy sends 9 ships to shadow 7 Russian warships in English Channel

(DAILY MAIL) – The Royal Navy has deployed to counter ‘unusually high’ levels of activity by Russian ships in UK waters as the country is gripped by the coronavirus crisis, it was revealed today.

Nine vessels, along with helicopter support, were tasked with shadowing seven Russian warships in the English Channel and North Sea over a week.

The Navy said ‘every movement’ of the vessels was monitored, amid fears Vladimir Putin could try to exploit the turmoil over the spread of the killer virus.

Concerns have also been raised that Russia is behind a wave of disinformation about the disease seemingly designed to foster panic among the public.

In a stark message to Moscow, Lieutenant Nick Ward, HMS Tyne’s Executive Officer said while the Navy would be helping the coronavirus response in the UK, it would not lose focus on the ‘essential’ duty to protect national security.

Type 23 frigates HMS Kent, HMS Sutherland, HMS Argyll and HMS Richmond joined Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey for the operation.

They were accompanied by RFA Tideforce, RFA Tidespring and HMS Echo, and there was support from NATO allies.

Lieutenant Ward said: ‘As the Armed Forces are helping the NHS save lives in the UK, it’s essential the Navy continues to deliver the tasks we have always performed to help keep Britain safe.

‘This is very much part of routine business for HMS Tyne and represents one of the many roles our patrol vessels perform in support of the Royal Navy’s commitments.

‘This is our core business and represents an enduring commitment to uphold the security of the UK.’

The operation, believed to have finished last week, was supported by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters of 814 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.

Royal Navy sailors and aircrew both monitored the Russian ship activity using state-of-the-art radar, surveillance cameras and sensors which allowed them to track their course and speed as they passed the British Isles.

Three Steregushchiy-class corvettes, two Ropucha-class landing ships and two Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates were observed during the operations, plus their supporting auxiliary ships and tugs.

Portsmouth-based HMS Tyne spent more than a week working in the English Channel, in often challenging seas, keeping a close eye on the Russian vessels as they pass the south coast.

HMS Sutherland, fresh from a demanding period of Arctic training on Exercise Cold Response, watched over the Russian presence as part of her duties with NATO’s Standing NATO Maritime Group One – a very high readiness task group made up of frigates and destroyers which patrols northern European waters to provide a reassuring presence.

The Devonport-based frigate’s Merlin helicopter carried out a number of intelligence-gathering sorties over the Russian ships as they passed through the Channel.