Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin MLA concerned by sighting of US submarine near Rathlin

Photographer Stephen Dunbar was surprised by a US Navy submarine

A Sinn Féin MLA has called for the "demilitarisation of our waters" following images of a US submarine surfacing near Rathlin on Tuesday.

The sighting was captured on camera by Belfast-based wildlife and landscape photographer Stephen Dunbar.

Ex-Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken, a former Royal Navy submarine commander, told The Irish News it was not unusual for Nato submarines to use the waters off Rathlin, given the island's proximity to Faslane naval base in Scotland.

The South Antrim MLA said the vessel was a "non-ballistic submarine" and unlikely to be carrying nuclear warheads.

However, Sinn Féin's Philip McGuigan said reports of the submarine had caused concern.

“Local people have genuine questions as to why this submarine ventured so near to the island and our coastline," he said.

“The waters around Rathlin island are busier than ever with locals and tourists frequently travelling back and forward to the island.

“Many fishermen are also out at sea doing their day's work.

“We have witnessed near catastrophes before involving military submarines in our waters, with a British navy submarine narrowly missing a pedestrian ferry in the Irish Sea in 2018.

“Our waters must be left free from all military activity, the safety of citizens must be paramount."

Last year, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) concluded that passengers were put in "immediate danger" when a nuclear-powered submarine and the Belfast to Cairnryan ferry nearly collided.

The MAIB said the vessels came within 50-100m of one another in the North Channel in November 2018.

The Royal Navy submarine, based in Faslane, had been patrolling an area south of the ferry route.

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