European court of justice ordered to release vessel seized by French

An international tussle over fishing rights in the Atlantic Ocean has erupted in a London court, with the French summoning the British captain of a fishing boat to appear as a witness after it…

European court of justice ordered to release vessel seized by French

An international tussle over fishing rights in the Atlantic Ocean has erupted in a London court, with the French summoning the British captain of a fishing boat to appear as a witness after it was seized by coastguards in the Atlantic last month.

The captain of the trawler also accused the French authorities of smuggling in his appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice.

A boat commissioned by Essex fishing company Tolley Oysters is one of five vessels seized by French coastguards off the west coast of Africa in June. It was seized after the French fisheries service searched it.

A French court on Wednesday ordered the vessel and its crew to be freed.

The European commissioner for fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said in a statement that it was a “very serious offence, punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years, to commit the crime of piracy against ships in the high seas”.

“Our position is clear. For the time being, we will not send anyone to appear in French courts,” he said.

He added: “We regret that French authorities have chosen to send a crew member as a witness. Fishing is a vital part of the Atlantic coast communities but this type of behaviour goes against international law. The UK is committed to ensuring that shared fishing rights are protected and enforced to the greatest extent possible.

“There are significant risks if this issue is not dealt with quickly. We hope that the French authorities will show the responsibility they are entitled to be held to, and promptly return the French fish net and rig [the vessel] for safe transit and a full investigation of the circumstances.”

In a letter to the French fisheries minister, Robert Badinter, the commissioner, Brett Hoyland, said the British ship was seized by French coastguards after the French authorities searched it.

It said: “As a result of this unusual fishing activity, and in accordance with international law, the fisheries minister ordered the seizure and transport of the vessel to France.

“The French authorities boarded the vessel and detained the crew and ship, and subsequently brought charges of sea piracy against the captain of the vessel.

“The captain appeared in court on 5 July 2019 and was informed of his case, and he has until 7 August 2019 to be given a preliminary remand hearing. The captain did not give evidence.”

Chris Humphries, a lawyer for the Tolley Oysters, wrote a letter to the French ship’s owners in London. He said: “Our client is dismayed that your French lawyers and fishery staff have waited for more than a month to try and obtain a fair and unbiased investigation of the alleged piracy offences against the Tolley vessel, and the captain.”

He said an investigation into the sea piracy of the French trawler Abdella which had been looking for langoustines in the Elysee state in June of last year, had not been completed and was therefore not available. The investigation did not fully cover the circumstances and facts of the alleged piracy.”

He added: “A fair legal procedure must be followed in all circumstances and any court hearing must be afforded the protection from interference by either government or military personnel.”

The lawyer also told the French authorities that the French fishing trawler had been inspected and found free of any illegal fishing equipment and “there has been no record of any fishing impropriety”.

Humphries also said: “We send a further reminder of our professional courtesy and that our clients have an established reputation in fishing that extends many decades. To date, no lasting damage has been done to any of our clients, as the French did not damage one of the vessels in their search.”

The Tolley Oysters welcomed the French authorities’ decision not to charge the captain, but said it was disappointed the French government had gone to court to pursue the captain.

A company spokesman said: “We are very pleased that the French courts have decided to dismiss all charges against the crew of the trawler.

“We have had previously expressed our disappointment that our captain, his French crew and the Tolley Oysters are once again being subjected to a court order and attempts to question him in this fashion.

“The Tolley Oysters do not believe this is in the best interests of the UK fishing industry.”

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, Médicault de Saint-Bonnet, deputy prosecutor for French national fisheries, said France had failed to negotiate with the British and needed to consider other means to secure the illegal fishing: “In two days we have been ordered to try to resolve it now or on the 29th of July … but this could have very

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