France fishing row: Trawler captain charged and crew told 'stay on board for own safety'

29 October 2021, 12:47 | Updated: 29 October 2021, 13:11

French authorities detained the trawler yesterday (stock image)
French authorities detained the trawler yesterday (stock image). Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The captain of a detained British fishing trawler has been charged and the boat's crew have been told to stay on board for their own safety as tensions continue to escalate, according to the company that owns the vessel.

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The charge faced by the captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan is relating to fishing without a licence, according to MacDuff Shellfish.

Head of public affairs Andrew Brown said the crew were in 'good spirits' but added: "UK fishermen in general are not particularly well thought of by the French industry so we've told the crew to stay onboard for their own safety and we want to get them out as soon as possible."

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Mr Brown said the vessel, which is being detained near Le Havre, in northern France, is designed to be out at sea for days at a time so "there is plenty of space and facilities and food to keep them comfortable".

"Obviously our first priority is to get the crew, the captain and the vessel out of the port and back to the UK," he said.

"We are engaging all efforts to do so.

"There is a coordinated effort across the UK Government to extricate our people at the earliest possible time."

He added that colleagues involved in the fleet had been in regular contact with the crew.

Mr Brown admitted the captain had had an "intense couple of days" of police interviews, but said he was a "cool head" and was "OK at the moment".

He added he did not want the crew's discomfort to be 'prolonged', but said it was largely up to the French authorities when they would be allowed to return to the UK.

"All we can do is use all the political leverage we can muster to get the vessel released as soon as possible," said Mr Brown.

"We don't know where the error of interpretation of the licence lies, that will take some time to fix.

"But I would believe that under normal circumstances a misunderstanding like this could be sorted out with a phone-call."

He added: "The fact that we've had quite a heavy handed and disproportionate approach to what appears to be an administrative misunderstanding... I think is a reflection of the political atmosphere at the moment."

French authorities detained the British vessel on Wednesday.

It was one of two boats fined by France - the other was for obstructing checks after it initially refused a request to be boarded by police.

The detainment is the latest twist in an ongoing row between the UK and France over post-Brexit fishing.

France is accusing Britain of not issuing them with the licences they were promised in the Brexit agreement, which would allow them to fish in British waters.

Barrie Deas, from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, the body representing fishermen in England, said the move showed the issue had been "politicised" by the French.

He said: "It may be normal enforcement action but against the background of the threatening noises coming from the French government... it's very concerning."