South Down MP Margaret Ritchie (SDLP) is continuing to pursue a fully-fledged, safe solution for the fishing industry in the Irish Sea following the incident between the Royal Navy and the Karen Fishing Vessel in the Irish Sea.
There is current speculation as the plot thickens that the submarine involved in the Karen incident on 15 April 2015 off the County Down coast taking part in the NATO Joint Warrior exercise may have been in fact Turkish. As a NATO member, Turkey has a modern submarine fleet and recently commissioned the building of six diesel electric vessels which can travel underwater at a speed of twenty knots and remain at sea for 84 days.
The 62-metre Burakreis (S 359) involved in Joint Warrior exercise was set to take part in the Gallipoli centenary celebrations in Dublin, On 25 April 1915, Australian and New Zealand forces were joined by Irish troops in the military action in Gallipoli in 1915.
But Afloat.ie reported on 20 April, just a few days after the Karen incident, that it had to cancel its engagement due to ‘technical reasons.’ Was it involved in the incident with the Karen? This was a high profile event planned in Dublin and was expected to flag up the improved relationship between Ireland and Turkey. However, this information still needs to be confirmed or denied by the MOD.
Ms Ritchie, who has been much involved in liaising with the MOD on behalf of the fishing industry, said: “I have had several meetings and direct representations with the Armed Forces Minister, Penny Mordaunt MP regarding the need to find an adequate and suitable resolution for the fishing industry in the Irish Sea to ensure that it will not encounter any further impediments or obstacles from submarines which could interfere with fishing effort.
“Some nine months ago, on the 15 April 2015, a local Ardglass fishing vessel, the Karen, had its nets snagged and was dragged downwards by a submarine. At that stage, the British Government indicated that the vessel that was involved in the incident with the Karen was not theirs ie a NATO vessel or from the Royal Navy.
“This was established initially not to be the case, and the British Government indicated in early September that it was a vessel belonging to the Royal Navy, issued an apology to the owner of the Karen vessel and stated that compensation for the damage done to the boat would be forthcoming.
“Following the most recent representations to the Minister to clarify what further action the British Government, and in particular the Ministry of Defence, will take to prevent such incidences in the future, I have just received Parliamentary correspondence from the Minister that changes have been made to operational issues for the Royal Navy in the Irish Sea. The changes that have been made relate to the instructions given to Commanding Officers and, when the specific circumstances of the Karen Incident which took place on the 15 April became known, revised guidance was issued immediately.
“According to the Minister for the Armed Forces the process by which a vessel is classified has been reinforced, using even stricter criteria to prevent incorrect assumptions being made by the submarine. If a vessel’s identification cannot be definitively established, the Commanding Officer must assume that it is a fishing vessel with nets in the water and behave accordingly. This instruction now informs the training given to future Commanding Officers.
“Furthermore, the Minister has also informed me that the Royal Navy’s reporting procedures have been reviewed to enable it to confirm more quickly whether a UK submarine was involved. The Minister has stated that ‘for operational reasons, if we cannot confirm quickly that it was not us, we will assume that it was. There should be no delay in verifying whether a Royal Navy submarine was involved, regardless of the kind of submarine it was and the operation or activity it was conducting’.
“I hope that further such incidents involving the Royal Navy and other such vessels will not happen again. Fishing efforts must be allowed to take place unhindered and without obstacles being put in the way of fishermen and the fishing industry. I will continue to pursue and review this issue both with the fishing industry and the Ministry of Defence”.
Strangford MP Jim Shannon was also successful in securing a debate in the House of Commons on the Karen incident. But subsequently the MOD appears to be vague in clarifying details of what actually happened despite giving a public apology. The MOD has agreed and clarified new protocols for such incidents between submarines and other vessels including fishing trawlers.
note: A further Joint Warrior exercise is planned from 11-23 April 2016 of Western waters.