U.S. Coast Guard Warns of "Unsafe" Russian Spy Ship Operations

The Viktor Leonov (file image courtesy Steffan Watkins / Twitter)

Published Dec 17, 2019 7:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Charleston issued a safety bulletin warning that a Russian spy ship has been "operating in an unsafe manner" off the U.S. eastern seaboard. 

"The United States Coast Guard has received reports indicating that the RFN Viktor Leonov (AGI-175) has been operating in an unsafe manner off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia," Sector Charleston warned in a Marine Safety Information Bulletin. "This unsafe operation includes not energizing running lights while in reduced visibility conditions, not responding to hails by commercial vessels attempting to coordinate safe passage and other erratic movements. Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel."

The bulletin calls on mariners to report any unsafe situations related to the Leonov to the Coast Guard.

According to CNN, the Leonov was previously operating in the vicinity of Trinidad, Tobago and the Dominican Republic, and she is being shadowed on her voyage by the destroyer USS Mahan. "We are aware of Russia’s naval activities, including the deployment of intelligence collection ships in the region,” a spokesman for U.S. Northern Command told media.  

The Russian subsea spy ship Yantar was also in Trinidad and Tobago on Friday, departing Monday.

The Leonov is a regular visitor to the waters off the U.S. East Coast. She was spotted off Georgia in 2018, not far from the Kings Bay submarine base, and transited areas off Virginia and Connecticut in 2017. She showed up unannounced in Havana during a U.S.-Cuba diplomatic summit in 2015. 

The Viktor Leonov was built in Poland for the Soviet Navy in 1988, and she is assigned to Russia's Northern Fleet.