Letters to The Fishing Daily Editor

The attack by the French-registered ‘Antonio Maria’ on the Scottish fishing vessel ‘Defiant’ LK 371 could have ended up costing lives, claims former Skipper of the Scottish fishing vessel Magnie Stewart.

On Monday 16 October the 26-metre trawler ‘Defiant’ found itself under attack by the 32-metre longliner ‘Antonio Maria’, as it made way during a fishing operation at around 07.50 (am), 18 miles east of Baltasound in Unst.

Having established via VHF radio that the position of the ’ANTONIO MARIA’ ’s lines was clear of where he intended to work, ‘Defiant’ skipper Magnus Polson began towing.

Fifteen minutes later the ‘Antonio Maria’ altered onto a collision course and within five minutes had come dangerously close to the port side of the Defiant. Two crewmen appeared on the French vessel’s stern, and one of them threw a rope into the sea.

The ‘Antonio Maria’ towing a rope across the bow of the Scottish vessel ‘Defiant’

Attempts by Mr Polson to contact the vessel were unsuccessful and “due to close proximity and the endangered safety of our boat I had no choice but to begin hauling back our gear to make room”.

A similar incident involving the Spanish-owned, German-registered gillnetter ‘Pesorsa Dos’ and the Shetland whitefish boat ‘Alison Kay’ happened 30 miles west of the islands in June 2020.

ban gillnetters off scotland

The ‘Pesorsa Dos’ committing the same act on the ‘Alison Kay’ in June 2020.

Not for the first time, has there been calls from the Scottish fishing industry demanding the UK Government to take action against rogue EU-registered fishing vessels. In his letter, Magnie Stewart writes:

“When we leave the EU, the UK will become an independent coastal state under international law (UNCLOS4) with jurisdiction over our territorial sea and EEZ – out to 200 nautical miles (nm) or the median line between us and neighbouring states.” Statement issued by Her Majesty’s Government.

20 plus years ago, when I was Skipper of the Defiant, I wrote to the local media about the fact that Whalsay boats, fishing within sight of Whalsay, were having to dump – due to EU quota restrictions – large quantities of the raw material which could have been processed by the Whalsay fish factory, which was then on short time working. Now wind the clock forward 20 plus years to the present day and the Defiant, now crewed by young, go-ahead men and fishing a few miles north of where we were dumping tons of good, processable fish, is attacked by an EU fishing vessel and our gutless politicians and fisheries authorities seem reluctant to do anything about it.

There have been a few misconceptions about the Common Fisheries Policy. The UK has always had control of its waters and EU management, of these waters, only took place through an Act of Parliament – the 1972 European Communities Act. All of that Act, or parts of it, could have been repealed at any time of Parliaments choosing, as Tom Hay and The Fishermen’s’ Association proved when Tom devastatingly and systematically took Tony Baldry (John Majors fisheries minister) and government lawyers apart, on the question of Parliamentary sovereignty.

Now read the statement, at the start of this letter, issued by HMG, stating what will happen upon the UK leaving the CFP. Regardless of Johnson’s betrayal of the fishing industry, following Brexit, it is quite clear that under The United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea – an International Treaty – the United Kingdom is a sovereign nation with an Exclusive Economic Zone, out to 200 nautical miles. Johnson’s miserable fisheries sell out, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, only takes force in the UK’s EEZ with the approval of Parliament. Therefore, as the Defiant being attacked is a fishery related incident, occurring within the UK’s EEZ, Parliament should have no hesitation in amending Johnson’s sell out Act and withdrawing the licences of the company which owns and operates the Antonio Maria, preventing them from operating within the UK’s EEZ.

The Skipper of the Antonio Maria should also be reported to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – which is responsible for safety of life at sea (SOLAS) – with a demand from the UK Government that his Certificate of Competency be immediately removed.

Pressure should also be put on the French government, (signatories of the UNCLOS agreement and a continuously elected council member of the IMO) to support the withdrawal of licences and certificates, as this attack could have ended up costing lives.

So, what happened to the Antonio Maria after her attack on the Defiant? Still on the fishing grounds, she was given a jellyfish visit by a Scottish Fisheries Protection Vessel, which after a brief radio exchange, took no action, whatsoever. Then the Antonio Maria blithely proceeded to Scrabster, unloaded her catch into a refrigerated lorry, bound for the continent, refuelled and reprovisioned and proceeded back to the fishing grounds.

Now contrast this disgraceful and insipid non action taken by the UK fisheries authorities and politicians, with the kind of action that would take place, if the incident had occurred in the EEZ of our neighbouring fisheries coastal state, Norway. Norway, where the fishing industry, fishermen and fishing communities are proudly held in high regard and not as some sort of makeweight political pawns, to be used, let down and betrayed by useless politicians. Imagine if a UK fishing boat had launched a disabling attack on a Norwegian fishing boat, within the Norwegian EEZ. Feet would not have touched. The UK vessel would have been arrested, escorted into a Norwegian port and

held until a trial date was set. Then at the trial, the book would have been thrown, the catch impounded, and the owners heavily fined. The Skipper would have been charged with endangering life at sea and would have perhaps had to serve a jail sentence. He, and the company which employs him, would most certainly be banned from ever fishing in Norwegian waters, again…….but hey ho, folks, the Norwegians care passionately about their industry, whereas the British couldn’t give a stuffed fig.

This week we have witnessed a disabled fishing vessel being towed to Lerwick, by Lerwick lifeboat, in extremely poor weather conditions. Thankfully, all arrived safely, but let us reflect that that could quite easily have been Defiant and her young crew, at the end of that tow rope, all due to the actions of an irresponsible idiot, who should never be allowed anywhere near the wheelhouse of a fishing boat, ever again.

Magnie Stewart

Bressay.

 

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