Norway’s civilian coastal population has been busy in recent weeks, reporting a series of new sightings of what may be foreign submarines in Norwegian waters. Defense officials confirmed they’ve been alerted to several sightings during the past month, and called the public’s reports “highly reliable” yet non-alarmist.
Major Elisabeth Eikeland of the defense department’s operative headquarters in Bodø told state broadcaster NRK that the military is glad the public reports suspicious activity. She asked for the public’s understanding that the sightings don’t always result in any concrete response. “We build our evaluations on a wide spectrum of classified and unclassified information that we can’t go into detail about,” Eikeland told NRK.
Reports from a ferry and other vessels
Among the recent sightings was one made from the ferry MF Hasvik late last week, when its radar readings showed that it was very close to an unidentified vessel off the coast of Nordland that its crew is certain was a submarine. If was the fourth observation of such an unknown vessel in the past month.
Two weeks ago, the fishing boat Lillebror sent in a u-boat report at Givær, just west of Bodø. On Thursday of that week, the website Aldrimer.no reported two sightings in which seafarers off Nordland reported “unusual incidents.” While on their way towards Brønnøysund on October 22, for example, men on board a boat reported seeing an “unidentified vessel” between Hamnøya and Hornslandet.
“I have been at sea since I was 15 years old, and I believe without any doubt that what we saw was a submarine,” Odin René Engan, who was among those on board the boat, told NRK. “We are also quite sure it was not Norwegian.”
Eikeland said that most of the sightings are investigated. She claimed that the crew on the ferry MF Hasvik did not detect a submarine on their radar, according to their official evaluation.
Big increase in Russian activity
At the same time, researcher Ståle Ulriksen at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI told NRK that there has been a major increase in activity by the Russian fleet off Norway during the past month. “Especially the last week,” Ulriksen told NRK. “It’s not known whether this included Russian submarines, but we can’t rule that out. In general, Russian u-boat activity has doubled many times over during the past three to four years.”
He noted that Russian Navy has both upgraded old submarines and built new ones. They’re often moved from the Baltic, where they’re built, up to the Arctic areas for training exercises before being dispatched to the Mediterranean and Black Sea, for example. He said there’s no doubt that there’s extensive traffic past Norway, both coming and going from the Arctic.
“There’s also in general an advantage to get to know the (Norwegian) coastal area, in the event of war,” Ulriksen said. “This isn’t play-acting. The situation in the world is dramatic right now. We are both a neighbour and a member of NATO. We can’t rule out conflicts between the major powers in the future.”