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Planned French military exercises near Irish waters have been halted, the Foreign Affairs Minister has confirmed.

But as TheJournal.ie reports, Simon Coveney stopped short of declaring the drills cancelled outright or merely postponed, telling the Dáil today (Thursday 23 June) “that’s a matter for France”.

West Cork fishers and marine conservationists had raised concerns over the scheduled live-fire manoeuvres, which had originally been planned within the waters of Ireland’s EEZ this week.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation welcomed a subsequent relocation of the French naval exercises.

However, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group warned that marine wildlife in Ireland’s waters would remain vulnerable to the impact of detonating missiles at sea.

TheJournal.ie has more on the story HERE.

Published in News Update

French military exercises near Irish waters which began yesterday (Tuesday 21 June) could have a significant impact on marine wildlife, says a marine group that’s called for a halt to the manoeuvres.

The exercises, which are taking place over a number of days this week, have already been relocated out of Ireland’s EEZ, as the Irish Examiner reports — though the French Embassy said in a statement that “a small piece of the southern extremity of Ireland’s EEZ” may be affected.

After voicing their concerns over the planned live-fire drills off Ireland’s Southwest Coast, West Cork fishers welcomed the changes.

Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation — which is leading calls for a moratorium on military drills within the EEZ — said: “We don’t agree with these exercises but this was the best scenario we could have reached and we did it within 24 hours.”

However, as TheJournal.ie reports, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has warned that marine wildlife in Ireland’s waters remains vulnerable to the impact of detonating missiles at sea, which may “cause a large sound wave which can esonify a wide area with a massive acoustic shock wave”.

TheJournal.ie has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said his department is in “ongoing contact with the French authorities” regarding a military exercise planned for this week.

However, Mr Coveney described the area affected as “off the French coast”.

He said the full extent of the area that may be potentially affected includes a “small piece of the southern extremity of Ireland’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), approximately 200km southwest of Ireland’s territorial waters”.

Notification of live-fire exercises by the French military off the southwest coast has been criticised by the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) which says it may stage a peaceful protest.

The Fair Seas group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has also expressed concern, stating the exercises are due to take place in a “critically important area” for marine biodiversity.

A marine notice issued by the Department of Transport says it has been advised by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) of a missile/rocket firing exercise by the French military in part of the Irish EEZ “to the south-west of Ireland”.

The department notice says the exercise is scheduled to take place from June 21st to 24th and June 27th from 0200 hours to 1600 hours daily.

Mr Coveney said, “the IAA was informed of the exercises via standard procedures and the Department of Transport has issued a marine notice to this effect”.

“As a close EU partner, the Department of Foreign Affairs will, as normal, maintain contact with the French authorities throughout the period of the military exercise,” his statement said.

Fair Seas said it was urging Government ministers to “have this military exercise relocated outside of Irish EEZ, away from the exceptionally important area for marine wildlife off Ireland’s southwest coast”.

“Critically, the Irish Government must also take urgent steps to protect its marine environment by designating and effectively managing a network of marine protected areas in Ireland’s inshore and offshore waters,” it said.

Fair Seas said the location identified by the French is the Whittard Canyon region, one of 16 areas of interest that the umbrella group identified for MPAs in Irish waters.

“The area is home to whales, dolphins, endangered seabirds, an important fish nursery and sensitive cold-water coral reefs,” it said in a statement.

“This canyon system is one of the largest submarine canyons along the Celtic Margin and is home to cold-water coral reefs. Across the border, the UK has designated ‘The Canyons’ Marine Conservation Zone, which is likely to support a variety of cetacean (whale and dolphin) species,” it said.

“The shelf sediments included in this area of interest are part of a large blue whiting nursery ground,” it said.

This area “has been covered extensively in recent years by the independent scientific surveys on board the RV Celtic Explorer and as part of the ObSERVE aerial surveys,” it said.

“Important at-risk species are frequently present here such as the red-listed kittiwake and puffin,” it said.

As Afloat reported earlier, IS&WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy said that “we know the impact of military sonar and live missile launches have the potential to severely disrupt the annual migratory path of fish and dramatically interrupt the breeding season of mackerel and other migratory fish species”.

“The albacore tuna fishery is opening for Irish vessels on June 23rd in the waters of our Continental Shelf which could potentially be disrupted by these live fire exercises, whilst also we believe this will cause untold damage to marine wildlife like whales and dolphins that are greatly affected by underwater noise,” he said.

He said he had instructions from his members to “implement a plan to highlight these dangerous exercises and consider any course of action that may disrupt these French military exercises”.

Published in Fishing

Irish vessels and crew have been warned over safety risks associated with a French military exercise off the South West Coast next week.

Marine Notice No 38 of 2022 from the Department of Transport gives details of the planned rocket-firing exercise in part of Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is currently scheduled for Thursday 23 to Saturday 25 June but may be postponed until a further date before Thursday 7 July.

“Given the nature of the planned exercises, vessels and crew are advised of safety risks in the operational area,” the notice adds.

Earlier this year, Russia sparked controversy when it announced plans for a similar firing exercise within the Irish EEZ. Those exercises were relocated after the Irish fishing industry voiced its concerns to the Russian ambassador, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Further details of this exercise, including coordinates, can be found in the Marine Notice attached below.

Published in News Update

Ireland has the legal right to say “no” to Russia or any other state seeking to conduct military exercises within an exclusive economic zone, an international maritime law expert has said.

As The Times Ireland edition reports, Prof Clive Symmons, retired lecturer in maritime law at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), says the Government was “incorrect” in stating last month that Russia was legally within its rights to conduct military exercises within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

On January 24th, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that while the military exercises were “not welcome”, Ireland did not have the powers to prevent the exercises from happening.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon CoveneyMinister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney

Last Saturday, Mr Coveney confirmed that Russian naval exercises due to take place later this week would be relocated outside of Ireland’s EEZ after he had written to the Russian defence minister Sergey Shoigu requesting a “reconsideration”.

Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov confirmed the relocation as a “gesture of goodwill”, following requests from the Irish government and the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation.

Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy FilatovRussian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov

The ambassador has accepted an invitation to appear before the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee today.

Prof Symmons said that military use of the sea was not included in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and remained a “grey area” that allowed for varied interpretations.

He said that in practical terms, some states like the US claim such activity is still exercisable in another state's EEZ, even without its consent as an implied high seas freedom.

However, other states such as China claim it is forbidden in their EEZ, he said.

“For these reasons, I think Mr Coveney was mistaken in his seemingly ready acceptance of such activity being legal in the Irish EEZ,” Prof Symmons said.

Prof Symmons said that a foreign state has “no express right in UNCLOS to conduct any military activities (let alone naval exercises) in the EEZ of another state without its permission”, and such exercises are “not an implied high seas freedom in this context”.

However, a coastal state may also have no clear right under the same convention to “interfere with military/naval activities”, and may be obliged to permit high seas navigational freedoms in relation to military vessels transiting.

Prof Symmons explained that EEZ rights are defined under Articles 56 (2), 58 and 59 of the UN convention as being sovereign for “the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living".

He said that as the initial Russian notification to exercise 240 km off the Irish coast involved an important Irish EEZ fishing area, this gave Ireland the right to object.

The UN convention also refers to "unattributed rights", where a dispute arises over the rights of the EEZ state and others.

Read more in The Times here

Published in Fishing
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