French fine for 'scallop wars' Brixham trawler owner
A Westcountry trawler at the centre of last year's so-called "scallop wars" has been impounded in a French port after being caught fishing inside territorial waters.
The Brixham-registered Van Dijck was ordered into Ouistreham on the Normandy coast on Monday after the French Navy conducted an inspection 12 nautical miles off its coast.
The scalloper, which was being skippered by Gary Smith and had five crew on board, was also ordered to return its catch to the sea.
Boat owner Andy McLeod, of McLeod Trawlers, said the crew had made an "honest mistake" and had been treated fairly by the French authorities.
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He has had to pay a bond of 50,000 euros (£80,000) to release the vessel, which sailed yesterday and is fishing again, before the court case is heard in May.
"The skipper made a little mistake with some old plotting charts," said Mr McLeod, who was yesterday aboard a ferry back from France.
"He thought he was outside the 12-mile limit but had gone ever so slightly over. He got arrested fairly and squarely and we would expect the British Navy to do exactly the same if a French boat was caught within our 12-mile limit. They have got radar plots and we have got no complaint. It was an expensive mistake."
Despite past tensions between the French and British scallop fleet, Mr McLeod said the authorities had been "really, really pleasant" and that there had been "no trouble whatsoever".
"It is not a case of tit-for-tat or revenge," Mr McLeod added. "The skipper made an honest mistake and we have rightly been punished."
The Van Dijck was at the centre of clashes last October, when the crews on five British trawlers claimed to have been attacked with rocks, iron bars and flares by a flotilla of 40 French boats while attempting to gather scallops from beds off the port of Le Havre.
The British fishermen claimed they had been fishing legally in international waters while their French counterparts accuse them of encroaching into their territory.
"I have never seen this before and I have been at sea 20 years," Brixham fishermen Anton Bailey said at the time. "They were shooting flares at other vessels, every underhanded thing you could think of."
Mr Smith and his crew later said they would not be "intimidated" by French threats and had painted a Union Flag on their vessel.