A Portsmouth-based patrol ship has been dispatched to keep an eye on Russian spy vessels sailing past the UK.
For the third time in two months, the ship’s company of HMS Mersey was tasked with following the movements of the Russian naval force sailing up the Channel.
The ship was joined by a Wildcat helicopter from RNAS Yeovilton as it spent 72 hours monitoring the progress of spy ship Feodor Golovin, landing ship Alexander Ostrakovskiy and tanker Yelnya.
According to the Royal Navy, the trio have been supporting Russian operations in Syria, but are now believed to be returning to their base ports in the Baltic and Barents seas.
HMS Mersey and her 34 crew were dispatched to watch the ships while carrying out a regular fishery protection patrol in home waters.
She met the three ships as they approached the channel, taking over from the French Navy – which had monitored the task group’s progress through the Bay of Biscay.
HMS Mersey’s executive officer, lieutenant Alexandra Karavla, said: ‘Ships like HMS Mersey are the eyes and ears of the Royal Navy around the UK – we are at sea for 320 days a year, so Mersey provides the navy with a ship ready to respond at short notice like this.
‘Although her routine business is patrolling UK waters and helping to enforce fishery legislation, HMS Mersey was tasked to locate, meet and escort the ships through the English Channel.
‘In this we have been well supported by a Royal Navy Wildcat from 815 Naval Air Squadron and by NATO colleagues. Operations like this would not be possible without such support and co-operation.
‘This tasking proves why HMS Mersey is vital to UK Defence. The flexibility and options these offshore patrol vessels provide to the Government is evident in the variety of tasking undertaken.’
As the three-day assignment came to an end, HMS Mersey handed over to the Dutch Navy once the Russian ships had passed through the Strait of Dover.