Russian Navy commandos boarded a cargo vessel on Northern Sea Route

It's thought to be the first time the Russian Navy has taken action against a civilian vessel on the Northern Sea Route.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - September 13, 2019
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A Russian Defense Ministry photo shows the vessel S. Kuznetsov, which was boarded by naval commandos while sailing the Northern Sea Route. (Mil.ru via The Independent Barents Observer)

Russia’s Northern Fleet has stopped a ship suspected of violating sailing regulations in the remote Arctic waters of the Northern Sea Route. It is believed to be the first time ever that the Northern Fleet has taken such action against a commercial ship in the area.

The operation was conducted in the Solnechaya Bay on the northernmost tip of great peninsula Taymyr, according to the Northern Fleet. Marines from the anti-submarine vessel Vice-Admiral Kulakov conducted the raid, using light speed boats to board the cargo ship S. Kuznetsov.

The action was carried out in cooperation with forces from the Coast Guard.

It is not known what kind of violations that the S. Kuznetsov is suspected of. The ship is now located on the coast of the Taymyr Peninsula, coordinates from the Northern Sea Route Administration show.

According to the Northern Fleet, the action against the vessel included control of  premises for staff and cargo, as well as ship documentation and personal crew papers. A series of violations were revealed and legal follow-up is in the making, representatives of the Navy confirm.

The S. Kuznetsov is owned by the Northern Shipping Company and has the permission needed for sailing in the area all through fall. Judging from documents from the Sea Route Administration, the ship is allowed to sail in the Arctic waters until February 20, 2020.

The ship has ice-class Arc4. It had been in the Bolshevik Island, a part of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago, to deliver goods.

The remote archipelago is place for the development of a new and upgraded military base.

The operation by the Russian marines was conducted during the ongoing voyage of a powerful Navy flotilla headed by Vice-Admiral Kulakov.

The voyage started on August 5 and has included a number of exercises, among them along the Yenisey river. The flotilla is expected to proceed through the Laptev Sea and to the New Siberian Islands where a major new military base is now operational.

According to the Northern Fleet, the raid of the S. Kuznetsov has provided the first experience in interacting with the Coast Guard in processual action against ships in the Arctic.

The Russian Navy has over the last years significantly strengthened its presence along the Northern Sea Route. However, it is the Coast Guard, a branch of the FSB, that has has the main responsibility for law enforcement in the area.

A bill signed in 2016 gives the FSB the full prerogatives for law enforcement in the area.  With the powers formalized, the FSB will autonomously be able to take action against ships operating along the Russian Arctic coast.