A secret surveillance ship designed to protect Britain’s undersea cables from Russian sabotage is set to start sea trials for the Royal Navy.
A year ago the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline was blown up, making Europe’s energy crisis worse.
There are fears Moscow may seek revenge on nations supporting Ukraine with hits on infrastructure. Undersea cables are a major concern as they carry 98 percent of global communications and £7trillion in daily financial transactions.
RFA Proteus, began life in the offshore oil industry.
Now after a £70million conversion, the 6,000-tonne vessel will act as a mothership for submersible drones which it can launch in all conditions.
It can carry up to 80 Royal Navy and Royal Marine specialists, including when needed by members of the Special Boat Service.
The UK is a hub for “vital” fibre optic cables which pass along the sea bed to Europe.
In a 2017 report Rishi Sunak, then a backbencher, warned; “A successful attack on the UK’s undersea cable infrastructure would be an existential threat to security.”
In January, Russia was thought to be behind the cutting of a fibre-optic cable linking Norway and the Svalbard archipelago.
Nato staff tasked with protecting undersea pipelines and cables are located in the UK and Brussels.
Proteus has left Birkenhead for Portsmouth and is expected to be joined by a second vessel in the next two years.
A senior source said: “This ship will be regularly deployed to monitor the 5,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines across the North Sea, as well as the extensive cable network.
“This is about protecting the UK and Europe from a clear and present danger.”
The Royal Navy said: “There will now be sea trials and evaluations. We are committed to having her ready for ops later this year.”