Nato has begun a 12-day submarine rescue exercise, Bold Monarch 2011, near the Spanish port of Cartagena, the Russian Ministry of Defence has reported.

Bold Monarch, which is held every three years, is the world’s largest submarine rescue exercise. It involves submarines, ships and aircraft from Nato and non-Nato countries, including Russia.

The exercise will also see participation of 2,000 personnel alongside 20 ships and submarines from the US, Sweden, the UK, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, France, Norway, Greece and Turkey.

The ministry has reported that a Russian Black Sea Fleet task force led by a submarine is also participating in the Nato-led naval drills for the first time.

A Russian Defence Ministry spokesman said, “The Russian task force comprises the diesel submarine Alrosa, salvage tug Shakhtyor, auxiliary vessel KIL-158 and rescue vessel Epron.”

The Alrosa is a Kilo Class diesel-electric submarine that will take part in the drill as a vessel in distress, and the ships will be equipped with a range of debris clearance, diver assisted gear and submarine rescue vehicles.