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Westerns Isles fishermen fear military jamming during war games creates ‘risk to vessels’

A range of vessels take part in Joint Warrior. Photo: Royal Navy

Nato war games off the west coast of Scotland have sparked fury among fishermen warning there is “a significant risk to vessels”.

The threat involves GPS being jammed for Europe’s largest military exercise – but fishermen say they rely on the positioning system to avoid potentially dangerous underwater obstructions.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has now written to the Ministry of Defence seeking an immediate review of the current system.

Fears fishing gear could become ‘entangled’

Mr MacNeil was contacted by the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association (WIFA) who informed him of incidents in recent days when vessels in the Minch had received a less than 30-minute warning that GPS would be jammed leading to extreme disruption and potential danger.

Nato exercises Joint Warrior and Dynamic Mariner have been taking place over the past two weeks off the west coast and end on Thursday.

In a letter to the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, Mr MacNeil said: “A less than 30-minute warning that GPS will be jammed is extremely disruptive and dangerous to the fishing industry and other marine users.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil.

“It is vital that they are fully aware of times of jamming, at least 48 hours before, to enable the fishing industry to plan future commercial fishing operations safely to avoid seabed obstructions which could result in injury to crew or damage to the vessel if the vessel gets caught in any obstruction.”

Duncan Macinnes, secretary of WIFA, said: “It’s totally unacceptable for the fishing industry being issued with a navigation warning that their GPS is being jammed within the next 30 minutes.

“This short notice presents a significant risk to vessels relying on GPS for avoiding underwater obstructions whilst they are towing and could result in vessels becoming entangled in obstructions that could result in injuries to crew or damage to vessels if their gear becomes entangled in obstructions.

Navy says it has liaised with communities

Eleven Nato nations are taking part in the war games, bringing 25 warships, three submarines, over 30 aircraft and about 6,750 military personnel.

Jamming during Joint Warrior in October 2011 was suspended after complaints from Western Isles fishermen.

The Royal Navy had issued prior warnings that GPS in parts of Scotland would be disrupted.

The Navy said: “Participants practice a wide range of capabilities across land, sea and air in coordinated joint operations with other allied nations with the scenario of the exercise mirroring a broad range of crisis and conflict situations which could realistically be experienced in real-world operations.

“Exercise planning staff have liaised with a wide variety of communities and organisations ahead of Strike Warrior in order to minimise the impact of military activity.”

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