• May 13, 2015


Ireland is once again being urged to play a leading role in combating the threat posed to fisherman around our shores caused by increased submarine activity involving NATO and the Russian Federation.

In both March and April there were incidents in which Scottish and Irish fishing vessels were snagged by submarines off the Hebrides and in the Irish Sea.

It seems inevitable that eventually there will be sinking and possible fatalities.

In a letter to Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Charles Flanagan TD, the League cite Ireland’s critical role twenty five years ago in ensuring International action (via the IMO) on the issue (text below):

“Minister for Foreign Affairs
Charles Flanagan
Department of Foreign Affairs
80 St Stephen’s Green,
Dublin 2

9th May 2015

Dear Minister,

Ref; International Maritime Organisation – Resolution A709 (17).

You will be aware from the records of the Department that via the good Offices of (then) TD Mr Hugh Byrne we interacted with the Irish Government in the mid 1980s concerning the issue of the problems and hazard caused to Motor fishing Vessels in the ‘Cold War’ by submarines operated by both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The Celtic League monitored this problem from the late 1970s as part of a general policy to observe military activity in and around the Celtic countries. Fortuitously we had taken a photograph of the Royal Navy submarine HMS Porpoise in the Irish Sea just hours before it sank the Sheralga a Motor Fishing Vessel in 1982 a fact that, along with other evidence, made it possible to rebut initial British assertions that ‘no Royal Navy submarine is in the Irish sea’.

The Sheralga episode and subsequent questionable sinkings (the MFV Cite DAleth 1983 and the MFVs South Stack and Mhari L, over the next two years) in which a total of 21 men died.

Ultimately the Irish Government via the Department of Foreign Affairs raised the issue with both the IMO and successfully persuaded that body to adopt Resolution A599(15) in 1987 which was revoked and replaced by the current A709(17) in 1991.

Ireland and in particular the Department of Foreign Affairs has played a pivotal role in encouraging awareness and action on this matter and at the 44th session of the United Nations General Assembly Ireland called for ‘a new sense of international responsibility’ on the problem.

As a consequence of this action some States notably the United Kingdom did adopt more stringent codes and issue specific guidelines to address the issue.

In the mid 1990s with the end of the Cold war the Celtic League decided to discontinue its monitoring of the problem. By this time we had catalogued approx 160 incidents over a thirty years period and a considerable number of MFV sinkings in suspicious circumstances.

The incidence of MFV/Submarine related incidents declined dramatically and it was not until the loss of the MFV Bugaled Breizh off the Lizard (during a NATO exercise in the Celtic Sea) in January 2004 that we once again addressed the matter.

This year after indications that submarine activity was once again likely to pose a threat to fishermen due to the increased tension between the Russian Federation and NATO we wrote (in January) to all European submarine operating powers (see link);


At the time only the German government responded positively (although the United Kingdom MOD say a response is being progressed) (see link);


Following an incident off the Hebrides in March 2015 involving the MFV Aquarius and the snagging of the Co Down vessel MFV Karen in April we once again wrote to both the submarine powers concerned and the IMO (see link);


The IMO has since responded and the Assistant Secretary General (A Winbow) told us:

“On the issue of the interaction between fishing vessels and submarines (IMO Resolution A709 (17)), I note your recent correspondence with some IMO States and the positive assurances received from Germany. In the regard, the Organisation will continue to encourage adherence to the resolutions adopted by the Organisation.” (7th May 2015)

From interaction with the IMO on this and other issues we are absolutely certain they are committed to addressing this area of Maritime Safety. However we are also aware of the limitations of their power in ensuring States comply.

We do trust that the Irish Government via your Department will press this issue.

As indicated above had it not been for the pivotal role of Ireland in the 1980s we would not have International recognition of this serious matter.

Yours sincerely

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information

(By Post and email)

cc Office of the Taoiseach (by email)”

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues

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