THE Swedish navy is scouring the waters of the Stockholm archipelago for “foreign underwater activity” after reportedly picking up a mayday signal from a Russian submarine.
In one of its biggest naval operations since the end of the Cold War, Sweden deployed minesweepers, patrol boats and helicopters in the hunt for the mysterious vessel.
Citing defence sources, the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet said Swedish intelligence had picked up an un-encrypted distress signal on a frequency used by the Russian navy, emanating from waters 21 miles to the east of Stockholm and transmitted to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Other coded signals were picked up from the same area.
The paper has also claimed a “human-made object” has been sighted, and that it was either a mini-submarine or a conventional submarine. It said the vessel’s apparent surfacing in open water indicated it was in some form of difficulty.
The Swedish government has remained tight-lipped over what the navy is looking for.
“The Swedish Armed Forces are not in a position to deny or verify media news or speculations recently published about a missing foreign submarine,” Erik Lagersten, a defence ministry spokesman said yesterday.
“We are conducting an intelligence operation in the archipelago of Stockholm with optical reconnaissance, as well as with naval vessels equipped with qualified underwater sensors, to establish if there are or has been foreign underwater activities in the area.”
The operation bears echoes of the Cold War when the Swedish navy once hunted Soviet submarines with depth-charges in the Baltic’s frigid waters. In 1981, to Moscow’s embarrassment, one of its submarines ran aground in Swedish waters
Russia has made no comment on the situation other than to say its naval vessels were carrying out routine operations, and that there had been “no out-of-the-ordinary, or emergency situations” involving Russian ships.
But claims that a Russian submarine is in the area have been supported by the mysterious presence of the oil tanker NS Concord. Although carrying a Liberian flag the vessel is owned by a Russian company, and should have been heading for the Denmark Straits when it took up station off the Stockholm archipelago, and started to manoeuvre back and forth as if searching for something.
Sweden, along with other Scandinavian states, has reported increased Russian military activity in the Baltic area of late, but the possible presence of a submarine close to the capital is an ominous sign, said experts.
Thomas Ries, a Russia expert at Sweden’s National Defence College, said: “When the Russians violate airspace, when strategic bombers launch mock attacks, it is a political signal. But when the Russians come into Swedish waters, it indicates they are preparing something.
“They could be laying something such as mines, or placing intelligence equipment. Or they are updating something left there during the days of the Cold War. Whatever it is, it is serious.”
Goren Frisk, a Swedish former submarine commander, said the vessel may have been trying to monitor recent Dutch naval exercises in the Baltic, or was practicing inserting commandoes along the Swedish coast.
A submarine could lie undetected on the Baltic sea bed for a long time so long as it made no sound, he added..