Russian ships spotted off west coast was a ‘cheap way to send a threat’

Ireland ‘not set up’ to properly monitor such incidents, says Irish academic at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

The presence of Russian cargo vessels off the coast of Ireland was “a cheap way to send a threat” to Ireland, the European Union and Nato, according to an Irish academic at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

The three ships – the Umka, the Bakhtemir and the Fortuna – caused alarm among defence officials earlier this month when they were spotted engaging in unusual manoeuvrers off the Co Galway coast in the vicinity of a new subsea communications cable.

It is understood that the vessels were equipped with technology capable of interfering with subsea cables.

The Defence Forces deployed ships and aircraft to keep track of the vessels, which later turned south and appeared to resume their originally charted journey to the port of Malabo in Equatorial Guinea on the west coast of Africa.


Eoin McNamara told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that while the vessels were commercial “all lines lead back to the Kremlin” as was the case with companies such as the Wagner group and energy companies.

“They say they are cargo vessels; they can be all those things, but they are sending a signal that they know where the cables are and that they have the equipment to disrupt.”

Ireland was “not set up” to properly monitor incidents like the Russian vessels, he said.

The Irish Defence Forces were dependent on intelligence from elsewhere and there was a “gap” in the capacity of the forces.

Meanwhile, Independent TD for Kildare South and a former Army Ranger, Cathal Berry, has said that the lack of capability of the Defence Forces to shadow Russian ships off the Irish coast was “simply not good enough for a sovereign state”.

“This is the big issue really, that Ireland has very little capability to counter what’s happening off our west coast,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

“We couldn’t even put a naval ship out there over the weekend because of the current problem in Haulbowline in Cork. Normal practice is if you have a sensitive convoy moving through your economic waters, you would put out at least one of your naval ships to shadow that convoy.

“Unfortunately, Ireland had no capability from a crewing shortage point of view to deploy a ship, so we had to rely on the Air Corps. They can put up an aircraft for a number of hours at a time and monitor the situation but there’s no substitute for having a naval ship on station.”

Ireland was also unique in having no sonar capability, he added. “Ireland has absolutely no sovereign underwater capability whatsoever. Not only can we not intervene in relation to what’s happening below the waves, but we can’t even see below the waves.

“We don’t have any vessels with a sonar capability, which makes us unique in the European Union.

“We’re an island nation, we have a responsibility for over 15 per cent of EU waters. It’s just completely unacceptable that three commercial Russian vessels, in a time of war, can move down the west coast of our country and loiter in and around our territorial waters.

“They were no more than 13 nautical miles off the coast of Kerry and that’s simply just not good enough for a sovereign state,” said Mr Berry.

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter