The Defence Forces have said they are “aware” that two Russian-flagged ships equipped with sub-sea cable laying technology have doubled back towards the Irish west coast late this week.
The two commercial ships, named Umka and Bahktemir, departed from the Russian port of Murmansk on February 23 on a course for the Equatorial Guinea port of Malabo.
The two ships were identified on the Marine Traffic global ship tracking map off the west coast early this week.
The two vessels then left the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, but have since turned round and steamed north, where they were identified off the north Kerry coast west of Dingle on Thursday.
The 79.8 metre-long Umka is an offshore supply vessel and the Bakhtemir, also 79.8 metres long, is a salvage and rescue ship. It is equipped with diving platforms and subsea submersibles capable of deep water work on infrastructure.
had reported that the ships “raised serious concerns among Irish military officials due to their movements around the IRIS high-speed, subsea communications cable, which became operational last year and runs west off the Galway coast”.
The newspaper said that “later analysis determined the ships’ unusual movements were probably a result of efforts to avoid bad weather, rather than anything sinister”.
Surveillance of vital subsea communications cables has been increased since reported sabotage last September of the Nord Stream pipelines, built to transport gas from the Russian Federation to Germany through the Baltic. The pipelines are owned by the Russian company Gazprom, and no group has as yet been identified for the attack.
In a statement, the Defence Forces said that the Air Corps and the Naval Service are “aware” of the two vessels but “won't be releasing any further information on the operation”.
Both the Air Corps and Naval Service "continue to monitor activity in Irish waters and to undertake Maritime Defence and Security Operations (MDSO) throughout Ireland's maritime domain," the statement said.