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Politics / Russian tug concern raised in parliament

CONCERNS were raised in parliament on Thursday over a civilian Russian tug which has been plying the waters to the east and west of Shetland over recent days.

In a debate over the UK Government’s net zero strategy, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael asked how serious the government takes the protection of assets that guarantees the country’s energy security.

He was referring to the 98-metre tug Nikolay Chiker which has 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 MP said there was more to energy security “than what we produce and where” and asked what the government was doing to protect vital national 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,” Carmichael said.

“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?”

Minister for energy security and net zero Graham Stuart gave assurances that he would follow up “offline” with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence.

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The mine sweeper M351 on Lerwick harbour on Thursday.Photo: Shetland News

After initial reports of the tug behaving suspiciously around 30 miles to the east of the isles a Norwegian mine sweeper was seen shadowing the Russian vessel for a while on Wednesday before steaming to Lerwick for a Shetland Bus wreath laying ceremony on Friday.

Carmichael added: “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.”

Shetland News has contacted the operators of the various pipelines serving the oil and gas industry around Shetland for their view on the situation.

So far only EnQuest, the operator of the Ninian oil pipeline and Sullom Voe Terminal, has responded.

The company said it had no comment to make but confirmed that terminal operations remain stable.

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