Impounded British fishing trawler leaves France

The Cornelis Gert Jan getting ready to leave Le Havre.
The Cornelis Gert Jan getting ready to leave Le Havre. Photo: Sameer Al Doumy/AFP
The British trawler impounded for a week by France has sailed from the northern port of Le Havre after receiving permission to leave, just ahead of crunch talks aimed at resolving the standoff between the UK and France over fishing licences.

The British-registered Cornelis Gert Jan, which is accused of gathering two tons of scallops in French waters without a proper licence, left the port just after 5pm on Wednesday, AFP reported.

The lawyer for the ship’s captain, Mathieu Croix, said a court in the nearby city of Rouen had allowed it to leave without posting any financial guarantee.

He told AFP that the court had rejected the state’s demand that the trawler remain impounded until a €150,000 bond was deposited. The vessel’s captain Jondy Ward was present in court for the hearing.

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“It is a good decision, of a kind that will allow the tensions to drop,” said the lawyer. “French justice is independent from political pressure,” he added.

Ward then joined his seven crew members to begin the journey back, smiling at journalists on the shore.

He still faces a trial in Le Havre on August 11th, 2022 on charges of non-authorised fishing in French waters by a boat from outside the European Union, which carry a maximum fine of €75,000.

The vessel is owned by Scottish firm Macduff Shellfish. Director Andrew Brown previously told AFP he believed that the boat was correctly licensed, however it was later reported that the vessel appeared to have been missed off the UK government’s list of licensed boats.

The vessel’s departure came the day before British Brexit Minister David Frost travelled to Paris to meet French Europe Minister Clement Beaune to try and find a solution to the dispute over post-Brexit fishing licences for French vessels.

Their meeting is set to be held behind closed doors and no press conference is planned.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that on Friday there would also be a European Commission meeting on the issue during a visit by Frost but this is yet to be confirmed by Brussels.

The dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights has strained already troubled relations between Paris and London following Britain’s exit from the European Union and has threatened to escalate into a full-blown trade war.

France has threatened to ban British boats from unloading their catches at French ports and to subject all British imports to inspections.

Under a deal agreed by Britain and the EU late last year, European fishing vessels can continue to ply UK waters if they can prove they operated there in the past.

But dozens of French boats have had their applications to operate in the the waters off the UK coast and around the UK crown dependency of Jersey rejected.


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