Report: Russian Sub Probes Ireland's Defenses, Loiters Off Cork Harbor

Kilo-Class subs at berth
File image courtesy Russian Navy

Published Dec 12, 2023 6:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Russian Navy has discovered an apparent weak spot in the UK's maritime defenses - Ireland, whose underresourced navy guards the UK's western flank. According to the Irish Examiner, the Irish Navy's two operational patrol vessels lack submarine-detecting capability, leaving the nation dependent on the UK Royal Navy for sub-hunting duties. 

A newly-disclosed incident just off Cork appears to illustrate the challenge for Ireland's stretched naval forces. According to the Irish Examiner, a Russian submarine loitered outside of the 12-nautical mile line off the coast of Cork, accompanied by a nominally civilian Russian surface vessel. The sub stayed there until a Royal Navy frigate and antisubmarine warfare helicopter arrived on scene. 

The Irish Navy has not had a vessel with operational sonar since the 1990s, according to the outlet, and only has two operational patrol vessels left. It is critically shorthanded, to the point that it has hired a third-party recruiter to try to fill specialty billets with foreign nationals. 

Russian naval activity has been on the rise off the British Isles for several years, and close-in patrols like the one at Cork have happened several times, according to the report. 

In April, the Russian pipelay barge Fortuna - famous for its role in completing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline - circled off Ireland's west and southwest coast, under tow by the Russian anchor handler Umka and escorted by the salvage tug Bakhtemir. The area hosts more than a dozen subsea cables connecting the British Isles with the rest of the world, including one cable that was recently installed. This Russian patrol raised concern in Irish defense circles, and the Irish Air Corps was dispatched to photograph the Russian convoy.