Coast Guard Unruffled by Reports of Russian ‘Spy Ship’ Off Long Island

The Viktor Leonov was said to be ‘loitering’ 30 miles south of Connecticut submarine base — that is, off the shoreline of the East End — but the Coast Guard expresses little surprise
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Reports this morning that a “Russian spy ship” was patrolling near Long Island set off a firestorm on social media, but a representative for the United States Coast Guard, who spoke with The Star around noon, said citizens had no reason to be alarmed.

The presence yesterday of the Viktor Leonov some 70 miles off the coast of Delaware was first reported on Fox News, which linked the ship’s movements to other seeming aggressions by Russia, including Russia’s deployment of banned ground-based cruise missiles.

Fox News updated its story today, reporting that the Viktor Leonov had moved farther north up the coast; it quoted an unnamed U.S. government official, who said the ship was “loitering” some 30 miles south of Groton, Conn. CBS News and other outlets published stories on the ship’s movements this morning, and the story exploded on the East End and around the country.

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, which is home to Naval Submarine Base New London, at Groton — a primary homeport for the submarine force, including nuclear submarines — expressed concern on Twitter that the ship’s movements were evidence that Russia was testing its “limits of reach.”

The vessel in question is a Meridian class intelligence-collecting ship built in the 1980s, part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, based in the Barents Sea.

For those watching this news unfold from the East End, it was immediately apparent that a location some 30 miles due south of Groton or New London would put the Russia vessel nearly in the surf off Napeague.

In a phone call, Ensign Rodion Mazin, the command duty officer at the Coast Guard’s Sector Long Island Sound, read an official statement on the matter: “We are aware of a Russian federation flag vessel that is transiting in international waters off the East Coast of the United States, and we are aware of all other vessels approaching the U.S. waters.”

Ensign Mazin said the ship had not entered U.S. territorial waters, which begin 12 nautical miles offshore. “The Coast Guard respects freedom of exercise by all nations beyond the territorial sea of the coastal United States,” the statement continued, “which is consistent with the international law."

While Ensign Mazin was unable to confirm the current location of the Russian ship, he said the Coast Guard is coordinating with other federal agencies, and the Viktor Leonov is under no requirement to notify the U.S. of its location.

“We have no concerns, Coast Guard-wise,” he said, adding that the public can go to marine traffic mapping sites such as marinetraffic.com and see "thousands of boats out there along the shoreline . . . tankers and commercial vessels . . . military vessels of different states. That's where they are allowed to be."

It is not unusual, he said, for international ships to be near our coastline, and it is not a concern.

The coast guard does not monitor submarine movements.