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Undersea cable owners seek injunctions preventing fishermen trawling

Lines carry data from some of largest financial and telecommunications firms and cloud operators

The companies claim the defendants’ actions also place the trawler crews in danger as the cables are charged and there is a history of vessels sinking having had their fishing equipment caught in subsea cables. Photograph: Getty Images

The owners of two transatlantic communication undersea cables are seeking High Court injunctions preventing fishing boat owners trawling near their property.

The action has been brought by GTT Communications and related entities Hibernia Express Ireland Ltd and Hibernia Atlantic Cable System Limited which run between Ireland, the UK and Canada.

The court heard the cables carry data from some of the largest financial firms, telecommunications firms and cloud operators. One cable carries information key to traders on the global stock markets.

The companies claim the owners of several fishing vessels have been trawling in the waters near the cables, allegedly posing a high risk of damage to the cables.

Trawler crews

The companies claim the defendants’ actions also place the trawler crews in danger as the cables are charged and there is a history of vessels sinking having had their fishing equipment caught in subsea cables. The cable owners seek various orders against Brendan, Denis, James and John O’Flaherty, as alleged registered owners of several fishing vessels operating out of Kilmore Quay in Co Wexford.

The orders sought include an injunction restraining them trawling, dropping anchor or interfering with the seabed within 1km of the cables until the full dispute has been determined.

The applicants claim the cables at risk from the fishermen’s alleged actions are the “segment D cable” which runs from Sutton, Dublin, via the Irish Sea, before making its way west to Halifax, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The defendants oppose the applications and say there is no basis in law that would allow a court make such orders. The orders would prevent them from engaging in lawful fishing activities, they say. Another cable allegedly at risk is the Hibernia express cable, which runs between Brean in the UK, lands in Co Cork, before running on to Halifax. Ciaran Lewis SC, for the companies, said the matter was urgent.

Number of incidents

His clients, following a number of incidents had asked the defendants to cease fishing near the cables, but they had failed to do so. The cables, he said, are extremely expensive to repair when damaged and varied from €600,000 to €1.4 million for every repair.

Darren Lehane SC, for the fishermen, said they are currently out at sea and he was not in a position to give any undertakings to the court until they were able to speak with them. The matter is complex and should be heard by the judge designated to hear admiralty matters, he said.

Ms Justice Leonie Reynolds acknowledged the urgency of the matter given the serious claims made in relation to health and safety. She said the matter could not be heard until after the Easter holidays. She adjourned it to later this week with a view to fixing a hearing date for the dispute.

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