A Russian tug which sparked international attention for her activity around Shetland’s coast is now heading away from the isles northwards – after being under “observation” by a Nato ship now berthed Lerwick.
The Nikolay Chiker had been plying the waters to the east and west of Shetland over recent days.
The minesweeper Otra, which can also act as a warship for the Norwegian Navy, is currently in Lerwick Harbour.
Her commander Kare Schiotz confirmed to The Shetland Times that they had been made aware of the Russian vessel’s position and had been monitoring her operating around the coastline and – particularly in areas near oil pipelines, Sullom Voe and Saxa Vord.
“We have been having a look at her,” he said, adding they could not provide any additional information on the operation.
MP Alistair Carmichael, earlier this week, had sought assurances in the UK parliament over infrastructure security following the unusual movements of the Russian vessel.
In a debate over the UK government’s Net Zero strategy Mr Carmichael asked for an update from the energy minister and Ministry of Defence colleagues on actions to ensure the security of energy and other infrastructure assets.
The Russian tug Nikolay Chiker had been steaming back and forth in areas close to a number of important oil and gas pipelines feeding the Sullom Voe Terminal and the Shetland Gas Plant.
The Norwegian minesweeper shadowed the vessel for a period on Wednesday before steaming to Lerwick for a Shetland Bus wreath laying ceremony on Friday.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Carmichael said: “There is more to energy security than just what we produce and where – it is also about the protection of infrastructure and assets.
“All this week we had had a Russian tug steaming up and down to the east of Shetland in the vicinity of the pipelines serving Brent and Ninian. This morning that tug has gone round to the northwest of Shetland and is now doing the same thing in the vicinity of the pipeline servicing the Laggan field.
“It is a merchant vessel, but we know that the Russian military often purpose merchant vessels in this way.
“So can I ask the minister if he will speak to his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to see first of all, if they know what is going on, and secondly if they don’t know will they then find out, and third: what will we be doing in the long term to protect these vital national assets?”
Energy minister Graham Stuart gave assurances that he would follow up “offline” with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence.
Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said: “No one seems to know what this vessel is doing but if we don’t at least try to find out then we shall never know.
“I would rather raise concerns now and be told there is nothing to worry about than sit back and find out later that we are dealing with a catastrophe of some sort. This is critical energy and telecommunications infrastructure we are talking about – it has got to be a priority.”