The US Coast Guard has warned mariners off the coasts of South Carolina and Florida to use “extreme caution” near a Russian surveillance ship spotted sailing in the international waters and engaging in “erratic manoeuvres”.
A Marine Safety Information Bulletin was broadcasting throughout the area to alert mariners about a Vishnya-class spy ship that was failing to use its running lights despite low visibility conditions and operating in an “unsafe manner”, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard told CNN.
“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,” the bulletin said.
“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.”
The bulletin continued: “Vessels transiting these waters should maintain a sharp lookout and use extreme caution when navigating in proximity to this vessel. Mariners should make reports of any unsafe situations to the United States Coast Guard.”
A defence official also confirmed a Navy Destroyer ship was operating in close proximity to the Russian spy ship as it sailed off the US coast.
While the spy ship — named Viktor Leonov — has patrolled the area of international waters in routine operations ever since 2015, its current operations come at a time of increased frictions between Russia and the US.
Russia also tracks US warships as they sail through the Black Sea, like when the USS Ross conducted “a scheduled port visit” in Constanta, Romania on Monday, the defence official told CNN.
The Russian ship’s unusual behaviour also comes shortly after a top Russian diplomat visited Donald Trump in the White House earlier this month for a meeting that resulted in alternative accounts from the Kremlin and Washington.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly raised concerns to the president about whether his White House administration was considering scrapping a nuclear arms treaty.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump celebrated his visit with the Russian diplomat, describing it as “a very good meeting” in a tweet last week.
“Discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling”, the president wrote.
However, Mr Lavrov later said when speaking to reporters at the Russian embassy in Washington: “We haven’t even actually discussed elections.”