The Russian Navy related ship Yantar has turned up off the Atlantic coast of Ireland. An Irish Defence Forces spokesperson said that the Irish Navy is aware of the ship.
The ship carries a range of deep-diving submersibles and sonar systems and has been suspected of operating on undersea cables before.
Yantar took up a stationary position between two undersea internet cables on Tuesday morning. According to AIS (automated identification system) positions collected by MarineTraffic.com, the ship moved into a position between the cables around 4am local time. She has remained there for most of Wednesday before resuming her journey southwest.
In the hours before stopping, it had altered course to run parallel to the expected route of the Celtic Norse undersea cable. The other nearby cable is the AEConnect-1 which runs between Ireland and the United States. It is possible that there is additional underwater infrastructure in the vicinity.
According to analysis of open sources (OSINT), Yantar left the base of Olenya Guba in the Russian Arctic around August 8. Yantar does not appear to have been on AIS between leaving Olenya Guba and arriving off Ireland. Navy vessels are not bound by the same rules as civilian vessels and Yantar appears to routinely turns off her AIS. So her exact whereabouts have not yet been determined. However Russian Navy ships have been noted off the West Coast of Ireland and also off Scotland during this time.
Olenya Guba is where a number of special assets are based. These include the Russian Navy’s famous Losharik spy submarine which suffered a fatal fire on July 1, 2019. Other unusual marine systems include a pen for trained Beluga Whales. This was possibly related to the whale which turned up off the Norwegian coast in April 2019.
Yantar is described variously as a ‘Special Purpose Ship’ and an ‘Oceanographic vessel’. These are however seen as euphemisms for a spy ship. She is operated by Russia’s secretive Main Directorate of Underwater Research (GUGI) who also operate Russia’s ‘special mission’ (read ‘spy’) submarines.
Yantar is equipped with the pr.16810 “Rus” (AS-37 Russia) crewed submersible which can dive to over 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). This is much deeper than the 100 meter (300 foot) deep waters where she is currently hovering. The submersible is carried in a large hangar and is launched over the starboard (righthand) side. At her stern there are two a-frames for launching smaller submersibles and remote operated vehicles (ROVs). Crewed systems may include the ARS-600 which is the Russian version of the Canadian designed Deep Worker submersible.
The submersibles and ROVs can be used for operating on seabed infrastructure such as internet cables. Additionally Yantar can use her shipboard and towed sonar systems to map the sea floor.
Other ships have recently been suspected of surveying near undersea cables. On August 15 The Times reported that an investigation is under way relating to unauthorized undersea works. A civilian vessel was suspected of surveying a cable on behalf of Russia. Even if Yantar’s current mission is not directly related, it is part of the bigger picture.
Based on previous operating patterns Yantar is likely to deploy for several months and conduct multiple surveys, often near internet cables.