Irish fishers vow to protest as Russia tests missiles off Cork coast

Irish fishers vow to protest as Russia tests missiles off Cork coast

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) confirmed last night it will seek to disrupt the exercises "to prevent catastrophic environmental damage". Picture: Larry Cummins

Fishers are planning to press ahead with a peaceful protest off the Cork coast next month as Russia attempts to carry out armed military exercises there.

Amid warnings from the Government that they should not put their lives at risk, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFPO) confirmed last night it will seek to disrupt the exercises "to prevent catastrophic environmental damage".

"It is our understanding that live-fire exercises cannot take place if our vessels are engaged in fishing in the area so we are discussing a plan aimed at peaceful protest in our traditional fishing area near the proposed area of the military exercise with our vessel owners and skippers," said ISWFPO's chief executive Patrick Murphy.

"We understand that an aircraft exclusion zone has been announced for the area but we have not yet received any notification of this nor any marine notice from the Irish State preventing us from fishing this area."

'Causing untold damage'

He said military sonar and live missile launches have the potential to severely disrupt the annual migratory path and breeding season of fish such as mackerel, tuna, and Blue Whiting "whilst also causing untold damage to marine wildlife like whales and dolphins".

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the fishers should exercise caution.

"These are military vessels and whatever they choose to do in terms of any protests, just make sure that they don't put themselves at any risk."

Eugene Ryan, an internationally decorated former commander in the Irish naval service, said while “he fully understands the frustration of fishermen”, they could be potentially putting themselves at risk and will break the law if they sail into the exclusion zone that the Russians are operating for the exercise.

It has also emerged that some of the Russian ships will be positioned directly over a number of submarine fibre-optic cables which transmit millions of financial transactions daily between North America and Europe, a fact which has not gone unnoticed by Nato and the Irish Defence Forces.

A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov of the Russian navy from the White Sea, in the north of Russia, Russia, Monday, July 19, 2021. Picture: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A new Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched by the frigate Admiral Gorshkov of the Russian navy from the White Sea, in the north of Russia, Russia, Monday, July 19, 2021. Picture: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

The Russian 'spy ship' Yantar has been monitoring the area around the transatlantic cables on an almost yearly basis for the last six to seven years and concerns have been raised that it may have sent submersibles and divers down to see if the cables could be cut.

The naval service is also not equipped to detect submarine incursions into Irish waters as it has no echo sounders.

However, the Government sought to downplay any suggestions the Russians will be in a position to threaten transatlantic submarine infrastructure.

"I don't think that the exercises represent a military threat to Ireland and I don't believe these stories about cables being cut and things like that, I don't think that's going to happen and that's certainly the view of the minister for foreign affairs and defence as well,” said Mr Varadkar.

On the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the Government warned that a land war in Europe for the first time in 30 years with the possibility of “an appalling loss of life” is imminent unless Russia backs down.

'Very serious' situation

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Mr Varadkar, and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney all described the situation as “very serious”, with large armies gathering on both sides of the Russian-Ukraine border.

"It could result in an enormous loss of life and, of course, extraordinary disruption right across the continent of Europe, and that is why Ireland has consistently been talking about the need to defuse tension to focus on diplomacy and political dialogue, as opposed to military build-up, and we will continue to be that voice," said Mr Coveney.

On foot of the tensions, Irish citizens are now being advised to avoid non-essential travel to Ukraine, it was announced.

Mr Martin said the advice comes in light of ongoing tensions at the eastern European country's border with Russia.

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