Another deliberate attempt by a foreign vessel fishing close to Shetland to ram or disable a local vessel has seen renewed calls by the industry for robust support from the UK authorities over such incidents.

The latest encounter took place 18 miles east of the Shetland island of Unst on 16 October.

The Defiant LK 371, skippered by Magnus Polson, had confirmed over VHF with the French-registered liner Antonia Maria where the vessel was fishing, and shot its gear accordingly. However, 15 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 in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to snag the Defiant’s propellor. The entire incident was recorded by the Defiant’s crew, with the film then being passed to the authorities.

Attempts by Magnus Polson to contact the vessel a second time were unsuccessful. He told BBC Scotland News: “They just kept getting closer and closer.

“You don’t really have time to think, you just have to do what you think is right, so we just started hauling up and focused on how to get out of the situation.”

Although zealous in pursuit of issues such as the wearing of PFDs, the MCA has previously confirmed that it has little jurisdiction over non-UK vessels beyond 12 miles, even in such cut and dried cases.

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer Sheila Keith said: “This is yet another shocking incident. It is unacceptable that local crews legitimately and responsibly going about their work end up in fear of their lives due to the actively aggressive behaviour of those onboard another vessel.

“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency urgently needs not only to investigate but to act decisively to ensure this kind of behaviour does not occur again. Otherwise we are going to end up with fatalities at sea.”

She also called for the MCA to establish a hotline for the reporting of such incidents. “There needs to be a streamlined system so that information about these types of incident can be properly directed and swiftly dealt with.”

A similar incident involving the Alison Kay LK 57 and the Spanish-owned gill-netter Pesorsa Dos in 2020, which was also filmed, was never resolved, with the authorities seemingly incapable of taking the type of action that the Irish Coast Guard has taken after similar dangerous aggression shown towards Irish vessels outside of 12 miles.

Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael raised the matter in parliament last Thursday, asking minister Mark Spencer if he had seen the video.

He said: “The footage is truly shocking, but the real scandal is that this is not the first time it has happened; it is at least the third documented incident in recent times.

“This will keep happening unless something is done to stop it, so will the minister speak to his colleagues in the Department for Transport and the Foreign Office to make sure that France, as the flag state with enforcement powers in this case, takes its responsibility seriously?”

Mark Spencer replied: “I have seen that footage. It is truly shocking. This was a deliberate act to try to sabotage a UK fishing boat. It was outrageous behaviour. Enforcement is difficult, because the incident involved a Spanish boat under a French flag, but given the seriousness of the event I will most certainly raise it with my ministerial colleagues.”

Mr Carmichael said later: “If direct enforcement is not possible outside of territorial waters, then the government needs to look at indirect methods. Other countries act to stop this aggressive behaviour. It cannot be beyond the wit of man for our own government to do the same.”

Fishing News contacted the MCA on the day of the incident to ask for its advice on what actions a skipper should take when confronted with such illegal and threatening behaviour. We heard back, just ahead of our print deadline, with the following statement, which we print in full. It will have the skipper of the Antonia Maria quaking in his boots.

“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is committed to maritime safety and will investigate any breaches that could potentially put lives at risk – if deemed necessary we will raise safety concerns with the relevant flag state of vessels when appropriate.

“As an agency, we regulate UK and foreign flag vessels within the 12nm territorial limit as defined in international law – however, the MCA does not have jurisdiction over foreign flagged vessels outside of this area.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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