Coast Guard Tracking Russian Intelligence Ship 100 Miles Off Hawaii

U.S. Coast Guard members patrol offshore.
U.S. Coast Guard members patrol offshore during Operation Kohola Guardian in Maui, Hawaii, Feb. 14, 2017. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa E. McKenzie)

The U.S. Coast Guard is playing Cold War-style cat and mouse games with a Russian spy ship off the coast of Hawaii.

Coast Guard officials said Wednesday they have been monitoring a Russian vessel "believed to be an intelligence gathering ship" for several weeks.

According to a video released by the service, the ship was about 100 miles off Hawaii in international waters on Jan. 11.

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    "As part of our daily operations, we track all vessels in the Pacific area through surface and air assets and joint agency capabilities," Cmdr. Dave Milne, chief of external affairs for the service's 14th District, said in a statement Wednesday.


    The ship, identified by vessel watchers as the Vishnya-class auxiliary general intelligence, or AGI, ship Kareliya, SSV-535, is based out of Vladivostok and is no stranger to Hawaiian waters. It was tracked 15 miles west of Kauai in 2021. A Russian intelligence-gathering vessel also was spotted near the island chain in 2016.

    The video shows the Kareliya undergoing an underway replenishment, refueling from the Russian tanker Pechanga, also based in Vladivostok, according to Chris Cavas, a maritime journalist and host of the CavasShips podcast.

    "There's nothing stealthy about these ships -- the Kareliya is doing exactly what it does and poses no particular threat," Cavas said in an interview with

    The Coast Guard monitors vessels at sea to ensure enforcement of the nation's exclusive economic zone. It is the lead federal agency for fisheries enforcement and partners with the Department of Defense to provide information on foreign vessel movements.

    Russian and Chinese military vessels often monitor U.S. exercises and gather data on installations and vessel movements along the U.S. coastline.

    At the same time, U.S. intelligence aircraft and vessels track movements of Chinese and Russian naval operations and activities.

    According to Cavas, Russian surveillance ships were common off the East Coast during the Cold War, conducting surveillance operations near Naval Station Mayport, Florida; Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia; and Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.

    Neither Russian vessel is broadcasting an automatic identification system signal, according to the app MarineTraffic.

    Hawaii is home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, a missile test range.

    The Russians conduct astern underway replenishments -- the reason it appears in the video that the Kareliya is being towed -- rather than side-by-side, as the U.S. does.

    The Coast Guard did not say which of its vessels or aircraft were monitoring the Kareliya.

    "The Coast Guard operates in accordance with international laws of the sea to ensure all nations can do the same without fear or contest. This is especially critical to secure freedom of movement and navigation throughout the Blue Pacific," Milne said.

    -- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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