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Russian Ambassador to Ireland Questions Reporting on Russian Commercial Ships Off Irish Coast

3rd April 2023
The 80-metre-long Salvage/Rescue Vessel Bakhtemir is one of three Russian commercial ships monitored by the Defence Forces off the Irish west coast over the last week
The 80-metre-long Salvage/Rescue Vessel Bakhtemir is one of three Russian commercial ships monitored by the Defence Forces off the Irish west coast over last week Credit: Air Corps

The Russian commercial ships monitored by the Defence Forces off the Irish west coast over the last week have left the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Defence Forces have confirmed.

The 79.8 metre-long Umka is an offshore supply vessel, and the Bakhtemir, also 79.8 metres long, is a salvage and rescue ship. It is equipped with diving platforms and subsea submersibles capable of deep-water work on infrastructure.

The Air Corps also released photos of a third ship, the Fortuna, a 169-metre pipelay crane vessel.

Russian ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov has questioned the focus on the ships in news reports, and has said that the focus should be on those responsible for the sabotage on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last September.

In a letter to The Irish Times, published today, the ambassador refers to the newspaper’s two reports on the two Russian Federation-flagged ships and says “the purpose of this story seems to be to once again create an impression of “suspicious” Russian maritime activity, allegedly aimed at sabotaging subsea communication cables”.

“An attempt so obviously ill-conceived that a story itself concludes that there was nothing “sinister” in the manoeuvres of the ships, only the desire to avoid bad weather on their way to Africa,” he says.

“The real threat to international maritime infrastructure lies elsewhere as evidenced by the terrorist attack last year on the “Nord Stream” 1 and 2 gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea,” he writes.

“The explosion of these pipelines in September of 2022 was an unprecedented act of sabotage which left Europe without one of the major and most dependable supply of natural gas. The obvious beneficiary has been the United States – economically by switching Europeans to more expensive liquefied natural gas from the US, politically by cutting one of the most reliable economic links between Europe and Russia, increasing Europe’s dependence on the US,” Filatov writes.

“There are serious grounds to believe that there has been US involvement in this act of sabotage despite persistent and unsubstantiated denials by the US officials. The recent revelations by Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer-winning US reporter, clearly support that point,” he says.

In a statement last night, the Defence Forces said that “this week Óglaigh na hÉireann have monitored Russian commercial ships both outside and inside Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)”.

“As part of their Maritime, Defence and Security Operations (MDSO), the Irish Air Corps Maritime Patrol Aircraft have observed Russian commercial vessels in international waters off the island of Ireland,”it said. “These vessels have now left Ireland's EEZ.”

The two ships had been first reported off the west coast over a week ago and then double-backed and returned to the Irish EEZ late last week, as reported by Afloat.

The two commercial ships, named Umka and Bahktemir, departed from the Russian port of Murmansk on February 23rd on a course for the Equatorial Guinea port of Malabo.

The Irish Times had reported that the ships “raised serious concerns among Irish military officials due to their movements around the IRIS high-speed, subsea communications cable, which became operational last year and runs west off the Galway coast”.

The newspaper said that “later analysis determined the ships’ unusual movements were probably a result of efforts to avoid bad weather, rather than anything sinister”.

Surveillance of vital subsea communications cables has been increased since the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines, built to transport gas from the Russian Federation to Germany through the Baltic. The pipelines are owned by the Russian company Gazprom.

Read the Russian Ambassdor’s letter to The Irish Times here

Published in Ports & Shipping, Navy
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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