Swedish Navy suspects Russian "shadow fleet" of espionage

Tuesday, 23 April 2024

The Swedish Navy has confirmed for the first time that Russia's so-called "shadow fleet" in the Baltic Sea may be engaged in espionage.

As reported by Swedish television channel SVT, Russia's "shadow fleet" moves daily through the Baltic Sea with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of petroleum products on board. For the first time, the Swedish Navy has confirmed that they are monitoring these movements and documentation indicates that some of the ships may be used for espionage, particularly for signal intelligence, i.e., intercepting communications.

"We are finding antennas and masts that typically do not belong to, for example, fishing vessels, so it is clear that we feel that there are sometimes other objectives associated with their activities in terms of what is moving at sea," says Ewa Skoog Haslum, Chief of the Royal Swedish Navy.

The coastguard is primarily responsible for monitoring movements, but the navy is also now confirming that the so-called Russian shadow fleet has military aspects.


"What is happening now due to the sanctions against Russia could become both a security and an environmental tragedy," Haslum believes.

She says that ships could be used in hybrid operations. For example, a foreign vessel might enter a Swedish port under the guise of seeking refuge due to an accident. According to SVT, the Swedish authorities have been specifically preparing for this over the past year, as at least one shadow tanker had technical problems near Gotland.

Ahead of the EU meeting on defence and foreign affairs in Luxembourg, specific measures were discussed to stop this activity.

"There is a broad consensus that the 'shadow fleet' is a problem," says Foreign Minister Tobias Billström.

Earlier it was reported that Sweden is concerned that Russia could cause "environmental chaos" in the region by transporting obsolete oil tankers through the Baltic Sea.

Prior to that, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk stated that the movement of Russia's "shadow fleet" in the Baltic Sea, which illegally transports Russian oil, must be stopped, including through intervention at European Commission level.

Finland also fears an oil spill in the Baltic Sea due to Russia's "shadow fleet."

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