Irish fishermen look set to take on the Russian Navy, with a fishing organisation in the country planning a peaceful protest of military drills off the island’s coast.
The Irish South and West Fish Producer’s Organisation (ISWFPO) is planning to disrupt military exercises set to be conducted by the Russian navy off the Irish coast, despite warnings from the Russian embassy in Ireland that such a move would be “reckless and irresponsible”.
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According to a report by The Times, fisherman from the organisation will continue operations in the region where the live-fire tests will be conducted, though a spokesman for the group emphasised that they would not be looking to directly challenge Russian forces.
“We’re not going out there to challenge the Russian navy or take on a warship,” the publication reports the ISWFPO Chief Executive, Patrick Murphy, as saying. “We’re going fishing in our fishing zones and if they feel like we’re interfering with their activities, tough. We’re not moving and that is our right to peaceful protest.”
However, the Russian embassyto Ireland has warned against the planned demonstration.
“We would think that any attempts to interfere with military exercises would be [a] reckless and irresponsible act which could put in harm’s way both sailors and fishermen,” a spokesman for the embassy reportedly said. “All that has been explained to the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation.”
Concerns have also been raised over the impact the Russian drills may have on marine life in the area, with both the ISWFPO and Irish Whale and Dolphin Group worried they may have detrimental effects.
“We do know that seismic activity has a detrimental effect on spawning stocks and this area is for spawning,” said Murphy regarding the potential dangers on fish in the region. “This could interfere with all that.”
However, the Russian ambassador has challenged this, saying that there will likely be little effect on local wildlife, including the stocks local fisherman rely on.
“We care about marine life the same as Irish or other maritime people,” the ambassador, Yury Filatov, said. “Care is taken specifically to minimise any adverse impact on the ecosystem. I don’t think there will be any harm.”
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Regarding the proposed protests, Ireland’s Deputy PM (Tánaiste) Leo Varadkar has urged caution for the fishermen, asking them not to put themselves at risk.
“I suppose I would just say to them that these are military vessels,” The Times reports the Deputy PM as saying. “Whatever they choose to do in terms of any protests, just make sure that they don’t put themselves at risk.”
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs has also said that the test is “not welcome”, though admitted that Ireland does not have the power to prevent them from occurring in the nation’s exclusive economic zone.
“Russia, under international law, can take military exercises in international waters, but the fact they are choosing to do it on the west borders of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that is in our view not welcome and not wanted right now, particularly in the coming weeks,” minister Simon Coveney said, according to the Irish Times.
However, while Ireland cannot prevent the exercises — which has forced the Irish Aviation Authority to re-route flights and issue a warning — the fishermen have said that they will not be moved.
“Our boats are in the middle of this — where they’re doing these activities is in close proximity to where our boats will be trying to make a living,” said Chief Executive Patrick Murphy. “We’re not going to leave the area or not fish there because we’re afraid of what the threats are.”