The Swedish Military Is Hunting for a Russian Submarine

I spoke to a guy reporting from the Baltic Sea.

22 October 2014, 11:45am

A selfie by Emil Nordin

Sweden’s biggest mobilisation of national defence resources in the 21st Century is currently taking place in the Stockholm archipelago. For the past five days, the Swedish military has been searching for “foreign underwater activity” and although the government has not yet confirmed it, local media frequently seems to assume that they are searching for a Russian submarine. According to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, the military entered a state of alert after picking up an SOS alarm, sent from a person speaking in Russian from somewhere deep in Swedish waters to Kaliningrad.

Moreover, a Russian-owned oil vessel with a Liberian flag, the NS Concord, has been circling the Gotska Sandön island in the Baltic Sea (which is just outside of Swedish territory) since Wednesday. Several Swedish newspapers report that the NS Concord is suspected to be the “mothership” of a Russian mini-submarine. This is still yet to be confirmed.

Basically, pretty much everything surrounding the search of the foreign underwater activity in Swedish waters is yet to be confirmed. Except for the fact that at the moment there’s a bunch of Swedish military vessels swimming in the Stockholm archipelago.

Emil Nordin is a freelance photographer who works for Swedish newspaper Expressen. He also contributes to VICE. Emil has been on the Baltic Sea reporting for Expressen since early Saturday morning. I called him on his 56th hour at sea, just after the military had sealed off a huge area in the Southern parts of the archipelago.

VICE: Hi Emil. Where are you right now?
Emil Nordin: We’re outside of Nynäshamn in the archipelago.

Are you inside or outside of the restricted area?
We are just outside of the area that the military has closed. We have been inside that area, but we were contacted by one of the military boats that told us that we had to move.

Have you seen anything suspicious?
No. I haven’t seen anything other than Swedish military vessels.

Since you arrived, has there been anything indicating that it’s not safe to be in the Stockholm archipelago?
No. There haven’t been any warnings about it being unsafe to be here. It was the first time we’ve been told to move. I mean the closest we’ve been is about 20 metres away from one of the bigger vessels. And until now, they haven’t said anything about that.

Have you seen the Russian ship, the NS Concord?
No. We haven’t been that far out at sea. We’ve only been in the archipelago.

Are there only press and military out there, or are there civilians hanging out, too?
I mean this is the first time the military has closed an area like that. It used to be completely free to move around. To be honest, I think the military is interested in the public being out at sea because in that way they can get tips. I think it’s good for them if people are out on the lookout, too.

So have you seen a submarine at all?
No. The whole world would know if I had seen a submarine [laughs]. I haven’t seen a Swedish one either. I don’t even know if they have Swedish submarines out here. The only thing I can say is that there’s a buttload of Swedish military here. There are like between seven and ten different types of vessels, and a bunch of smaller boats nearby tiny islands and people on these islands looking out for things – or whatever it is that they’re doing.

If we had seen military vessels of any nationality other than Swedish it would have been completely insane – obviously – since they’re not allowed to be here. Or, they’re allowed to be here if they have permission, such as that Dutch submarine. But this is not a matter of us chasing Russians.

It will definitely be interesting to see if this media coverage will be put into account when the government decides on the new budget on Thursday. But to summarise: I’ve been on this boat since early morning on Saturday. We’ve been out at sea more or less 24/7. In the nights, it’s so dark that it’s impossible to see anything and the only way to navigate is via the radar. It’s almost like looking into a black hole. The only things we've seen are lanterns, occasionally.

So what’s the mood like where you are? Are you afraid, sick of it all or are you waiting for something spectacular to happen?
I think we’re more excited about the potential that something spectacular will happen. What I’ve reacted to the most is this thing that we’ve been allowed to move as freely as we have until [yesterday]. Other crews were told to move away on Friday night at the time of the first mobilisation, which probably was due the military being a bit sensitive in the beginning. We’ve been in touch with the military on the radio and told them that we’re here, and that they should let us know if we are in the way, and they’ve told us that it’s all cool.

I guess it’s good for them if the press are around and spot things that they miss.
Yeah – for sure. The public contacts us with tips that the defence later gets hold of. So they probably benefit from having us out here.

Probably. Thanks, Emil. 


Previously – Why Is Russia Simulating Nuclear Strikes on Sweden?