The Royal Navy has deployed to counter 'unusually high' levels of activity by Russian ships in UK waters as the country is gripped by the coronavirus crisis, it was revealed today.
Nine vessels, along with helicopter support, were tasked with shadowing seven Russian warships in the English Channel and North Sea over a week.
The Navy said 'every movement' of the vessels was monitored, amid fears Vladimir Putin could try to exploit the turmoil over the spread of the killer virus.
Concerns have also been raised that Russia is behind a wave of disinformation about the disease seemingly designed to foster panic among the public.
In a stark message to Moscow, Lieutenant Nick Ward, HMS Tyne's Executive Officer said while the Navy would be helping the coronavirus response in the UK, it would not lose focus on the 'essential' duty to protect national security.
The Royal Navy been countering 'unusual' levels of activity by Russian warships in the English Channel and North Sea. Pictured: HMS Tyne shadowing the Russian corvette, Steregushchiy
The Navy completed the concentrated operation after recording unusually high levels of activity in waters around the UK. Pictured: HMS Richmond (stock image)
Type 23 frigates HMS Kent (pictured stock image), HMS Sutherland, HMS Argyll and HMS Richmond joined Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey
The HMS Tyne is one of the three River-class patrol ships built to safeguard the fishing stocks.
She is one of the busiest vessels in the fleet and spends nine out of every ten days of the year at sea.
HMS Tyne, along with HMS Severn and HMS Mersey make up the Fishery Protection Squadron – the 'Cod Squad' – the oldest unit in the Royal Navy.
Role: Inspects around 400 vessels on average per year
Number of crew: 43
Top speed: 20 knots
Type 23 frigates HMS Kent, HMS Sutherland, HMS Argyll and HMS Richmond joined Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey for the operation.
They were accompanied by RFA Tideforce, RFA Tidespring and HMS Echo, and there was support from NATO allies.
Lieutenant Ward said: 'As the Armed Forces are helping the NHS save lives in the UK, it's essential the Navy continues to deliver the tasks we have always performed to help keep Britain safe.
'This is very much part of routine business for HMS Tyne and represents one of the many roles our patrol vessels perform in support of the Royal Navy's commitments.
'This is our core business and represents an enduring commitment to uphold the security of the UK.'
The operation, believed to have finished last week, was supported by Merlin and Wildcat helicopters of 814 and 815 Naval Air Squadrons.
Royal Navy sailors and aircrew both monitored the Russian ship activity using state-of-the-art radar, surveillance cameras and sensors which allowed them to track their course and speed as they passed the British Isles.
Three Steregushchiy-class corvettes, two Ropucha-class landing ships and two Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates were observed during the operations, plus their supporting auxiliary ships and tugs.
Portsmouth-based HMS Tyne spent more than a week working in the English Channel, in often challenging seas, keeping a close eye on the Russian vessels as they pass the south coast.
HMS Sutherland, fresh from a demanding period of Arctic training on Exercise Cold Response, watched over the Russian presence as part of her duties with NATO's Standing NATO Maritime Group One – a very high readiness task group made up of frigates and destroyers which patrols northern European waters to provide a reassuring presence.
The Devonport-based frigate's Merlin helicopter carried out a number of intelligence-gathering sorties over the Russian ships as they passed through the Channel.
The Royal Navy is currently preparing to help the NHS and other government departments deal with the response to the coronavirus outbreak. Pictured: HMS Echo (stock image)
MPs are calling for social media users to pass on examples of coronavirus misinformation they discover online.
Social media firms will be called in to Parliament after the extended Easter recess to explain what they are doing to combat the spread of false information.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Julian Knight said: 'The deliberate spreading of false information about Covid-19 could have serious consequences.
'Much of this is happening on social media through private channels, putting the onus on friends and family to identify whether the information they are seeing is misleading.
'There have been some shocking examples in recent weeks and we want people to send us what they've come across.
HMS Sutherland's Operations Officer, Lieutenant Hannah Lee,