The U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday it’s monitoring and tracking a suspected Russian intelligence vessel off the coast of Hawaii amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over the conflict in Ukraine.
“In recent weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard has continued to monitor a Russian vessel, believed to be an intelligence gathering ship, off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands,” the USCG said in a news release.
It noted that foreign military ships can move “freely through the U.S. economic zone” under international law but said that “foreign-flagged military vessels have often been observed operating and loitering within Coast Guard District Fourteen’s area of response.” The Coast Guard added that it is monitoring the situation.
The Coast Guard on Wednesday posted a video of the alleged Russian military vessel’s movements near Hawaii. In the clip, it showed crew members manning a ship that appeared to be refueling.
“The Coast Guard continues to coordinate with Department of Defense partners, providing updates to foreign vessel movements and activities and to appropriately meet presence with presence to encourage international maritime norms,” the service said.
In recent weeks, the @USCG has continued to monitor a Russian vessel, believed to be an intelligence gathering ship, off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands.⁰
— USCG Hawaii Pacific (@USCGHawaiiPac) January 19, 2023
The Coast Guard, which also falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security, describes itself as the lead federal agency for at-sea enforcement of fisheries laws.
“The U.S. Coast Guard is currently monitoring the Russian vessel operating in the vicinity of Hawaii,” said Cmdr. Dave Milne with the Coast Guard in the news release. “As part of our daily operations, we track all vessels in the Pacific area through surface and air assets and joint agency capabilities. The Coast Guard operates in accordance with international laws of the sea to ensure all nations can do the same without fear or contest. This is especially critical to secure freedom of movement and navigation throughout the Blue Pacific.”
Some speculated that the ship identified in the Coast Guard video is the Russian intelligence vessel SSV-535 Kareliya, a Vishnya-class intelligence ship that was built for the Soviet navy in the 1980s. The Russian Navy currently operates seven such ships, which are used for intelligence-gathering, according to DefenceBlog.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command confirmed last May that it was monitoring a Russian vessel near Hawaii’s coast. At the time, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel told KHON-TV that the Soviet Union used to send ships to Hawaii during the Cold War.
“The tactics, techniques, and procedures that we saw the Soviets doing back in the Cold War seem to be resurfacing again under the Russian banner,” retired Lt. Colonel Hal Kempfer told the local outlet. “This looks like one of those issues that I would point to Russian intelligence ships potentially off the shore of Hawaii.”
Russia’s presence off the coast of North America isn’t unusual as several vessels have been seen off the coast of the United States in recent years. A Russian naval vessel was spotted near Alaska in September of last year, while a month earlier, U.S. military officials detected Russian surveillance planes flying in Alaska’s air-defense zone.
In 2019, a Russian spy ship was seen operating off the coast of the southeastern U.S. in what officials said was an “unsafe manner.” The Viktor Leonov vessel was operating near Georgia and South Carolina, prompting reports to the U.S. Coast Guard at the time, according to a notice.
President Joe Biden in April banned Russian-flagged ships from entering any U.S. port following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine months before. An executive order authorized the Department of Homeland Security to issue mandates “to regulate the anchorage and movement of Russian-affiliated vessels, and delegate to the secretary my authority to approve such rules and regulations.”
“That means no ship, no ship that sails under the Russian flag or that is owned or operated by a Russian entity, will be allowed to dock in a United States port or access our shores. None,” Biden said last year. About a month before the ban, Biden also issued an order barring Russian oil imports.
Also in recent years, the U.S. and its allies have scrambled fighter jets as Russian planes have flown near their respective airspaces. South Korea’s military scrambled fighter jets after Russian and Chinese warplanes entered the country’s air defense identification zone in November.