The Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster created a diplomatic stir last week when she allegedly asked an Irish fishing vessel to cease fishing within the Irish EEZ due to an ongoing submarine exercise.
The fishing vessel, the Marliona, reported that it received a call from HMS Lancaster instructing her to cease fishing and depart the scene. The Lancaster was reportedly operating with a sub and planned to continue its exercise for a three-day period.
“I have been involved in the fishing industry for 40 years and have never seen this happen before. For the UK vessel to radio a trawler and tell him to get out of the area is totally unacceptable,” said Sean O’Donoghue, the head of the Killybegs Fisheries Organisation, in an interview wth Independent.ie.
In response, two Irish Navy ships were placed on standby and an Irish maritime patrol aircraft was dispatched to monitor the area. As for the Marliona, she resumed fishing in the same area off the coast of Tory Island.
Though the alleged incident occurred 60 nm from shore – well outside of Ireland’s territorial seas – some Irish political leaders described it as a violation of their nation’s sovereignty, as the trawler was pursuing an Irish-administered fishing quota within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.
“The disregard for Irish sovereignty is arrogance of the highest order . . . For decades, British submarines have infringed on Irish sovereign waters, leading to tragedy and loss of life when submarines have got caught up in fishing nets and pulled trawlers under,” said the Sinn Fein party’s foreign affairs spokesperson, John Brady. “It is staggering and unacceptable that this flagrant disregard for the safety of Irish fishing crews is continuing.”
The Royal Navy has confirmed that HMS Lancaster broadcast a warning to shipping via VHF, notifying vessels in the area of the presence of the submarine. It told UK outlet The News that Lancaster was operating within the bounds of UNCLOS and that there was no risk to safety for any of the vessels involved.
The Royal Navy’s submarines have been involved in several near-miss incidents and fatal casualties off Ireland and the UK over the years. In November 2018, the ferry Superfast VII passed close by an unnamed Royal Navy sub operating at periscope depth on a run between Belfast and Scotland. In 2015, an unnamed Royal Navy sub snagged the nets of the Northern Ireland-registered trawler Karen, dragging it stern-first at seven knots and nearly pulling it under. The skipper knew that it was a sub strike and cut most of the net away, saving his vessel. The sub’s crew was not aware that something had gone wrong until three hours later, according to the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch.
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