Nord Stream leak: Russia ‘destroying own kit’ says Seely
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The mile-long floating pipeline is crucial for delivering fuel to RAF, US Space agency and navy bases on Ascension Island, a remote British Overseas Territory located 1,047 nautical miles from Guinea, Africa to the east, and 2,030 nautical miles from Brazil to the West.
Vital pipeline in the South Atlantic is being targeted by Russian saboteurs (Image: Getty)
Used as a vital staging post for British troops retaking the Falkland Islands 40 years ago, the 35 square mile island now also hosts a UK-US signals intelligence facility, one of the four ground antennas used for the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigational system, a European Space Agency rocket tracking station and a NASA-operated Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) used for tracking orbital debris which could endanger spacecraft and astronauts.
Its fuel is also essential to both Royal Navy and US vessels which operate in the area.
The volcanic island’s rocky coastline means that fuel delivered by tanker to its vast oil storage depot must be carried through the pipeline, which “floats” on the water’s surface on Clarence Bay and is easily visible.
Concerns were raised last month when British security services gained access to satellite images which indicated that Russia had become markedly interested in the stretch of pipe.
The images, which surfaced shortly after attacks on two Nord Stream pipelines, have been examined by technical specialists, sources say.
A Whitehall decision was then taken to fly a security team to the small island to guarantee the flow of fuel day and night.
Though sources would not reveal what measures were put in place, they are thought to have focused on the possibility of underwater sabotage by Russian divers or small, remotely operated sea drones launched from a submarine.
The operation took place during scheduled maintenance by marine specialists employed by the MoD’s Defence, Equipment and Support agency.
Ascension Island is subject to a constant South Atlantic swell and is surrounded by rough volcanic seabed, which causes the pipeline’s chains and mooring components to wear out quickly.
Technicians replaced more than 170 metres of mooring chain, as well as a damaged mooring buoy and two one-tonne clump weights, which secure the buoys to the seabed.
While undertaken annually, the maintenance operation was pushed forward by three months to accommodate the other “special security measures”, sources say.
The presence of 11-foot Galapagos Sharks in the waters surrounding the island meant that the final inspection of all work had to be carried out remotely, with underwater cameras.
Last night a Whitehall source said: “The security measures taken, which are actually long overdue, were prompted by information received which indicated that a certain foreign power had developed an interest in the pipeline.”
“We are now satisfied that these new measures will ensure the safety of this floating pipeline so that full operations continue unhindered.”
Russia is suspected to be behind the sabotage of two of its pipelines which deliver natural gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, and which were partially destroyed by a series of explosions in September.
Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 were not operational after protests by the European Union over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
An MOD Spokesperson said: “The protection of our personnel and facilities is of vital importance. We do not disclose the measures we take to provide security but all measures are kept under constant review.”