The UK will maintain “vigilance” in the North Sea in response to Russian spy ships operating near offshore energy infrastructure, according to a defence minister.

Baroness Goldie said the activities of vessels suspected of gathering intelligence will be watched closely.

Last month, a joint investigation by European broadcasters claimed a Russian ship called the Admiral Vladimirsky was part of an operation to map undersea infrastructure for possible sabotage.

According to the report, the ship had sailed around the Baltic Sea and the North Sea for a month.

Admiral Vladimirsky is officially a research vessel, but Danish journalists filmed an armed man in military gear on its deck.

Baroness Goldie spoke to the PA news agency at Faslane naval base on the Clyde, as military leaders from Nato countries gathered for a regular meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

Role to play

Asked about the reports of Russian activity in the North Sea, she said: “We take that presence very seriously, as do our Nato allies, and we all have a role to play.

“The United Kingdom deployed one of our vessels, HMS Somerset, to be in the vicinity.

“We do constantly track and monitor the activity of vessels like these Russian purported-to-be fishing vessels but may be something very different.

“We are constantly aware of what they are doing.

“The important thing is for the Russians to understand there’s constant surveillance, there’s this vigilance on the part of not just the UK, but our Nato allies.

“We are aware of their activity, the Russians know that.

Appropriate action

“We’re very vigilant about ensuring that if we detected any potential risk to critical subsea infrastructure, then appropriate action would be taken.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace last week faced a call to reveal in Parliament how exactly the UK is responding to the presence of the Admiral Vladimirsky.

Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone raised concerns about sightings of the vessel. He called for Mr Wallace to tell the Commons how the Government was responding to the incursions.

He said: “It is not a trawler, it is not a pleasure boat - it is a spy ship complete with armed guards.

“It has been snooping around the Beatrice oilfield and examining the interconnector to my constituency. It has been snooping around the oil stations in the North Sea and the oil pipelines.”

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