THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING
There is an annual ‘Naval Day’ held in Russia, which celebrates its Naval Service. Addressing the celebrations in 2020, President Vladimir Putin announced that 40 new vessels would enter the Service over coming years. Their weaponry, he said, would be able to hit almost anywhere in the world. It is not known how many of those vessels may be amongst the battle group heading to Irish waters this weekend to carry out the exercises which have caused so much attention over the past week.
Vladimir Putin has done more to raise Irish public awareness of the fishing industry and the marine sphere than the Irish Government has done in a long time. Like it or not that is the fact. The focus on the Russian Naval exercises does raise the question – why was it that the fishing industry had a meeting with the Russian Ambassador but the Government itself did not? That’s a question to be raised in the next edition of the MARITIME IRELAND RADIO SHOW & PODCAST which will be issued next Friday, February to Podcast services – Apple, Mixcloud, Spotify and others and Community Radio Stations around Ireland. The programme will have an extensive interview with the Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Michael Malone. He is the first Engineering Officer to lead the Navy and has responsibility for Naval Service operations. I discussed with him the current issues facing the Navy, including the shortage of personnel and reduced seagoing operations.
The maritime sector of life became main news this week, focused on the South West Coast where the Russian Navy is expected. The ‘Law of the Sea,’ got a lot of mention.It is not a subject easy to understand. There are ‘territorial waters’ as well as ‘EEZ zones’. There are ‘baselines’ and ‘contiguous zones.’ Marine protected areas are on the way, to which can be added ‘maritime zones of special interest.’
The ‘Law of the Sea’ is composed of customs, treaties and international agreements through which governments agreed on use of the seas and peaceful relations. That was reached in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also called UNCLOS and known too as the Law of the Sea Treaty. This created an international legal framework for marine and maritime activities. 167 countries and the European Union are parties. Others have signed, but not ratified it. However, its terms have not been totally honoured by all countries. Last year there were reports, particularly in April, of submarines being seen “in Irish waters.” Commenting, the Defence Forces said: “Territorial Waters are twelve nautical miles from the coast of Ireland. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, there is no restriction on warships operating on the High Seas.”
Foreign and Defence Minister Simon Coveney is right to say that the Russian exercises are not welcome, but he should also have mentioned concern for the fishing industry and the marine environment and marine life. The exercises are a provocation at the backdoor to Europe” as a defence force source told me, but they are likely to cause other damage -to marine life in the area and the result could arrive on Irish shores as a result of the naval exercises inside the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“Nothing like this has been done before inside the Irish EEZ,” I was told by a marine scientist this week “and it is a danger to what, in the public perception, is largely a silent place – the underwater area – though it really isn’t. Human progress, the needs of the world have changed that.”
Last year an international study examined 10,000 scientific papers on the subject of marine sound and its impact on wildlife. It showed evidence that “anthropogenic” (human-caused) noise negatively impacts marine life and underwater ecosystems. “Sound is the sensory cue that travels farthest through the ocean and is used by marine animals, from invertebrates to great whales, to interpret and explore the marine environment around them. This makes the ocean soundscape one of the most important, and under-appreciated, aspects of the marine sphere.” the report said. Construction of wind farms, seismic surveys, oil and gas drilling, shipping, fishing, even sonar-based navigation, have made an impact causing as much concern as plastic and other kinds of pollution of the oceans, driving marine animals away from breeding and feeding grounds and causing mortalities.The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has been investigating dead whales and dolphins being washed-up on coastlines around the country, including Cork, apparently dying from unestablished causes and suspecting, the effects of underwater noise pollution as a possible cause. That international report on underwater noise did not get a lot of public attention. Marine animals depend on their hearing to navigate, communicate and catch prey. Sound levels in the oceans are rising constantly and can be carried long distances underwater.
“Human-produced noise is resulting in loss of cohesion for marine life, missed opportunities for feeding, or failure to avoid a predator. It’s getting so loud down there that fish can’t even hear themselves think,” the report commented.
From that point of view, what the Russian Navy intends doing off the South/West coast could have a major impact on marine life.“The results could arrive on the South/West coast, days, weeks later,” I was told.
National media journalists do not refer to distances at sea correctly. This is properly measured in nautical miles, not land-based kilometres. A nautical mile is a unit of length used in marine navigation. The international nautical mile is defined as 1,852 metres – 6076 ft. The unit of speed at sea is the knot, one nautical mile per hour. Not kilometres either! The distance from the Irish shoreline to the Russian exercise area has been reported at between 240/250 kilometres, which would be 130/135 nautical miles,
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