The mystery of Russian submarine in Swedish waters, and of SCF tanker NS Concord

Everybody who’s monitoring world and shipping news knows by know about a maybe Russian submarine incident in Swedish waters. Something which may be a submarine was spotted in Stockholm Archipelago waters on Oct 16, since then, Swedish Navy is intensely searching the area, trying to find out, what’s all about, is there an undercover underwater activity, and who it may be. Swedish media said radio transmission was intercepted on the frequency reserved for Russian Navy emergencies. Media and public assumed there’s troubled Russian spy submarine in Swedish waters.
The growing sensation was fuelled by a strange behaviour of Sovcomflot aframax tanker NS Concord, which is hanging around in the middle of the Baltic since the middle of October, and notwithstanding all the fuss, didn’t leave the area east of Archipelago. At 0000 UTC Oct 20 vessel was drifting some 35 nautical miles east of eastern borders of Archipelago. Research vessel Professor Logachev (owner State-owned company Polar Geo Research, engaged in deep-water operations) left Russian Navy Base Kronshtadt, S-Petersburg, for Las-Palmas according to AIS, but presumably, she was to joint NS Concord in strange activities off Archipelago. As of 0400 UTC Oct 20, her position is unknown.

There are no facts of proofs of Russian underwater spying in Swedish waters, at least not yet. Search is still under way, meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian activists and members of social networks say Russian submarine is in Swedish waters, and she is in a big trouble, with strictest orders from Navy and State tops to remain undetected and not to surface under no circumstances. Well, knowing Russian ways of dealing with the confusing and compromising accidents, I won’t be surprised and won’t deny such a possibility.
Still, no proven facts yet.
Except the behaviour of NS Concord.

NS Concord is owned and managed by State-owned shipping company Sovcomflot (SCF), the biggest in Russia and one of the biggest tanker companies in the world. Sovcomflot is running up to world shipping best practices, trying to get its’ share of tanker market and prove that its’ worthiness is not based on tremendous cargo flow guaranteed by the State only, that the company is competitive on its’ own. But NS Concord recent history just belies company’s leadership claim, it’s irrational and unexplainable from point of view of common good commercial and operational practice. Vessel’s AIS history was cut off in the end of April, vessel left Hamburg and actually, disappeared. It is said now, that she was under repairs in S-Petersburg for 5 months, but why AIS history didn’t record S-Petersburg arrival and departure? AIS could be switched off during repairs, but why wasn’t it switched on when tanker was leaving S-Petersburg?

SCF was always trying to be impeccable in general practices, especially in details, presenting itself as a first-class quality company, which has nothing in common with substandard shipping. But NS Concord history is contradicting the company’s policy and practices. Vessel left S-Petersburg on Oct 3, AIS said she was bound for Danish Straits, which is kind of unusual point of destination for an aframax tanker of a world-class company. Let’s look at vessel’s track from a FleetMon AIS database (see below). Vessel left S-Petersburg on Oct 3, and reached the area of her strange maneuverings on Oct 5. Since that day (though actually, she could reach the area on Oct 4), vessel is seemingly chaotically moving around – for already three weeks, without any plausible reason and explanation.

It’s an aframax tanker, not a fishing vessel. Her operational cost is some tens of thousands dollars daily, she can’t waste owner’s money in such an extravagant way without some very good reasons. What are they, those reasons? What did she do in S-Petersburg during her “repairs”? Accidentally, research vessel Professor Logachev, before leaving Kronshtadt, was undergoing repairs, too, and also during a five-months period. Coincidence?
I just don’t know. Was it some kind of a special project? It is said that NS Concord may be used as a relay station, maybe some kind of support and coordination station, but frankly, I can’t believe it, notwithstanding the facts.

With all preferences and support SCF enjoys on a State level (which leave her national rivals far behind), I respect the company for its’ professionalism in running her huge fleet. I know Mr. Frank personally. I know that he rejects any activities which may jeopardize reputation of SCF, and I believe, his greatest aspiration is the status of SCF as one of world tanker fleet leaders. But I know as well, that he can’t disobey his superiors, Mr. Putin including. Was it the case?

Even a year ago I’d reject the story as absolutely absurd and impossible. Now, after Crimea annexation and war in Donbass, I can’t be so sure. Everything bad is possible in present day Russia, considering raging fire of nationalism and megalomania, which engulfed most part of Russian population; absolutely irresponsible policy of Russian authorities, starting from Mr. Putin; and seemingly disastrous economical situation, which leaves those in power no other way to keep their power, except igniting of nationalism on the grounds of so-called “Western Threat to Mother Russia”.

Voytenko Mikhail
Oct 20

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