The Russian embassy has disputed claims by Irish fishing industry representatives that the ambassador to Ireland gave them "an absolute guarantee" that their fishing grounds will not be affected by next week's Russian naval exercises off the Irish coast.
“There was no discussion of guarantees of any kind,” the embassy’s spokesman Nikita Isakin said in a statement released to The Irish Times.
The naval drills are being undertaken outside Ireland's sea territory but within the State's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) about 240km off the coast of west Cork.
Speaking after meeting Russian ambassador Yuriy Filatov in Dublin earlier on Thursday, Brendan Byrne, chief executive of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, said they had reached “an accommodation where there is a pathway for coexistence for the naval exercises and for our fishing fleet” during the planned military drills next week.
He told reporters there would be a “buffer zone” between the Russian naval vessels and Irish fishing trawlers during the military exercises.
Mr Byrne said that “operational detail” of how that would work when the naval exercises take place next week would have “to go back to Moscow.”
The ambassador gave details of the scale of the military drills to the fishing representatives but the groups gave an undertaking that this information would not be disclosed, said Mr Byrne.
“Further information will be shared with us as the exercises draw near and a clear understanding of who is going to be where so that both parties know that there will be a buffer zone between,” he said. “At the same time there was an absolute guarantee that our traditional fishing grounds will not be impacted by the Russian naval exercises.”
Mr Byrne later clarified to The Irish Times that he was referring to sea areas known as the Porcupine Bank and Seabight, which adjoins the area where the Russian drills will take place, when he was speaking earlier about the “absolute guarantee” on their “traditional fishing grounds”.
Mr Byrne described the 50-minute meeting with Mr Filatov as “extremely beneficial” where options were explored with the Russian ambassador with the use of a map when they met.
He said the ambassador acknowledged that the location of the planned naval exercises were “valuable fishing grounds” that were open to Irish fishing vessels at this time of year.
On the Russian navy’s plans to fire missiles in the military exercises, Mr Byrne said: “He was he was very frank in regard to the scale of activity that’s going to take place there, even to the ordinance that are going to be used.”
In a statement Mr Isakin of the Russian Embassy said: "The ambassador underscored that the exercises, given their small scale and location, will not adversarially affect the traditional fishing areas."
The embassy said that the ambassador had a “detailed and productive discussion” about the industry’s concerns about the upcoming naval exercises off the Irish coast and “emphasised the necessity to strictly follow safety protocols and regulations pertaining to the matter.”
Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, said that the decision to fish in the area will be down to the individual fishing trawlers.
He told reporters outside the embassy that the ambassador told them that there was “no intention to endanger or harm” fishermen who are “out there trying to make their living outside there.”
“We take great comfort in that and we too will be talking to our members to explain to them about the practicalities about what we have discussed inside there today,” he said.
Mr Murphy said that the fishing groups have been given “assurances” from the ambassador that the Irish trawlers can fish safely during the naval exercises.
“He is going to bring that back to Moscow so he can’t guarantee that they are going to do exactly what he wants but he has assured us that he is going to make every effort,” he said.
Earlier, the Department of Transport issued a safety notice to all seafarers warning of the exact location of the planned Russian naval drills off the south-west coast.
In a marine notice issued to all shipowners, fishing boat owners, skippers, yachtsmen and seafarers, the department said the military exercises will be carried out from February 3rd to 8th.
The department said that it had been advised of the naval manoeuvres by the Irish Aviation Authority, which had been contacted by the Russian authorities about the military drills.
The notice on the “live fire naval exercise” includes details of the exact coordinates for the naval manoeuvres.
"The Russian Federation has indicated that the exercises will include the use of naval artillery and launching of rockets," the department's notice says.
“Given the nature of the planned exercises and the presence of naval forces, vessels and crews are advised of serious safety risks in the operational area.”
The notice advises that ships vessels should navigate “to ensure safety at all times” and reminds mariners of their responsibilities under the International Regulations for Prevention of Collisions at Sea that are covered by Irish law under merchant shipping regulations.