'Suspicious sailing': Russian ship seen off Belgian coast in November

'Suspicious sailing': Russian ship seen off Belgian coast in November
Credit: Belga

A ship that was "probably the same Russian research vessel" previously spotted in Dutch waters was sighted in the Belgian part of the North Sea in mid-November last year, Federal Minister for the North Sea Vincent Van Quickenborne announced on Tuesday.

The ship sailed without AIS (Automatic Identification System) – a mandatory security system that automatically makes the identity of ships known to others. Based on the "suspicious sailing behaviour" of the ship, an investigation was initiated by the Maritime Information Crossroads, as the passage of this ship is "undoubtedly" part of the wider context of the Ukraine war.

"The presence of Russian ships in the North Sea is not prohibited, but we monitor them closely. We do not know the exact motives of this Russian ship, but we should not be naive," said Van Quickenborne in a press release.

This is especially the case if the ships behave suspiciously in the vicinity of Belgian wind farms, submarine gas pipelines and data cables and other critical infrastructure, he stressed, adding that Belgium has already taken the necessary measures to make them more secure.

State-of-the-art software

On Monday, the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that it had spotted the Russian ship, suggesting that it may have been intended to map sensitive infrastructure, such as wind farms, submarine gas pipelines and cables for communication and data traffic.

The Belgian intelligence and security services are also taking this scenario into account and are alert to it, Van Quickenborne said, as Belgium manages important infrastructure resources for energy supply off the coast.

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"Last year, we already allocated a budget for new state-of-the-art software to better detect and monitor suspicious activities in our North Sea. The new Maritime Security Act has been in force since 1 January," he added. "This makes it possible, among other things, to provide camera surveillance at sea, in particular on the windmills to which this suspicious ship seemed to pay special attention."

Additionally, Belgium is demanding stricter security plans from the operators of all infrastructure in the North Sea. "Based on this, we take the necessary measures. We are also coordinating with other North Sea countries to exchange more information and to be able to intervene together."

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