Europe increases defence of energy assets after Baltic Sea ‘sabotage’


European countries have stepped up military patrols to protect energy supplies in the North Sea and off the coast of Italy in the wake of the alleged sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines near Denmark.

Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s prime minister, said he had welcomed help from Germany, the UK and France to increase security as the country put on a show of force, flying F-35 fighter jets past oil platforms and sending torpedo boats and frigates to patrol near energy sites.

The Scandinavian nation has become Europe’s largest supplier of natural gas since Russia slashed supplies following its invasion of Ukraine. This has made its pipelines and gasfields a focal point for supply fears, as the continent faces a severe energy crisis this winter.

Italy said its navy would increase measures to protect gas pipelines bringing supplies from north Africa to Europe through the Sicilian channel, warning that it feared Russia could try and target key energy infrastructure.

The US said on Friday it is working closely with Norway and other countries who are increasing their surveillance efforts. “We have . . . begun co-ordinating with allies to increase surveillance and monitoring of energy infrastructure including pipelines in the Baltic Sea,” said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Concerns over the security of gas supplies have risen after Russia was suspected of being involved in sabotaging the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, which led to huge gas leaks in the Baltic Sea. Russia has denied responsibility and called for a UN investigation. Russian president Vladimir Putin blamed “the Anglo-Saxons” for the damage.

Sullivan said the US has no specific intelligence to share about attacks on western infrastructure but is making contingency plans, including elevating “our surveillance and monitoring of critical infrastructure in NATO territory”.

The comments came after US president Joe Biden on Friday called the damage to the two Baltic Sea pipelines “a deliberate act of sabotage”.

While the pipelines were inactive, with Russia having already cut the majority of its gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for western support for Ukraine, the leaks have raised fears of what German officials have dubbed an “energy war” targeting other infrastructure.

Oil and gas operators in the Norwegian and Danish waters of the North Sea said that they had seen a number of unidentified drones near platforms in recent weeks.

US energy company ConocoPhillips said on Friday that it was raising the security level at its Norwegian assets after one of its platforms was approached by a drone. The platform was reported in Norwegian media to be part of the Ekofisk oilfield that sits close to the maritime border with the UK.

Admiral Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, chief of Italy’s defence staff, told La Repubblica newspaper that while they had closely monitored the movement of Russian vessels since the invasion of Ukraine, there was now a renewed focus on the security of energy pipelines.

“The underwater threat in the Mediterranean will become even more pressing, in all its aspects,” he was quoted as saying. “And the protection of energy and communications networks is a priority.”

UK North Sea operators were contacted on Friday by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, a UK government body, and told to ensure “their monitoring equipment and security systems are fully operational” with protocols in place to report any suspicious incidents.

A Poseidon maritime surveillance plane, used to track submarines, took off from northern Scotland on Thursday and spent several hours circling near the North Sea coast close to Newcastle, at times flying at just a few thousand feet, according to air traffic control data.

The UK Ministry of Defence has not commented on the Poseidon activity. It said that at least seven Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons that were active over the North Sea at the same time were not related to energy concerns, but part of scheduled “night combat” training exercises.

The Nord Stream pipeline damage was also discussed by EU energy ministers in Brussels on Friday.

Khashayar Farmanbar, the Swedish energy minister, said following the talks that it was “important to stress, this is not just a northern European issue, this is a European issue”.

“Europe must see to it that it has security of supply and strengthen its security on energy,” he added.

Sweden and Denmark said in a joint letter to the UN Security Council that the leaks were probably caused by an “explosive load of several hundred kilos”.

Additional reporting by Robert Wright and John Paul Rathbone in London, Alice Hancock in Brussels and Felicia Schwartz in Washington