Sunday, 25 Jul 2021

Clear off! Trio of ‘illegal and dangerous’ French ships caught plundering UK waters

French vessel spotted bottom trawling UK waters by Greenpeace

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The environmental pressure group challenged two of the ships as part of Operation Witness, an ongoing mission to challenge ships operating in specially designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) around the UK coast. The French-flagged bottom trawlers, VF Atlas, which was operating in the Offshore Brighton MPA, and Glorieuse Immaculee, which was operating in the Offshore Overfalls and Bassurella Sandbank MPAs, were contacted by activists in Greenpeace’s ship, Sea Beaver, and agreed to stop.

Bottom trawling is a type of fishing whereby a massive net is dragged along the sea bed, which critics blame for significant damage to the underwater environment.

The crews of both ships claimed they were not aware of the existence of the MPAs.

Additionally, the Glorieuse Immaculee had been operating with its AIS satellite tracking off – something which poses a threat to other seafarers, and which is forbidden by maritime law.

Last year, Greenpeace documented and reported 11 vessels fishing with AIS off in the Dogger Bank.

Fiona Nicholls, a Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner, said: “Not only do we keep catching destructive fishing vessels damaging our protected areas, we also keep catching them fishing with their satellite tracking systems turned off.

“This is illegal and dangerous for all other seafarers.

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It’s like driving down the motorway at night with your lights off

Fiona Nicholls explains the risks of turning off AIS satellite tracking

“It’s like driving down the motorway at night with your lights off, but when we reported this to the authorities, no action was taken.”

Ms Nicholls added: “Our Government keeps saying it’s a world-leader in marine protection, but it can’t even enforce international maritime law in its waters.

“It’s still letting destructive vessels harm our protected areas for thousands of hours each year, and it’s still failing our fishing communities.

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“We need to ban bottom trawlers and supertrawlers from all of our protected areas to level up ocean protection.

Greenpeace activists also protested against Tourmalet, a French-flagged industrial fly shooting vessel that had been fishing in Offshore Overfalls and Bassurelle Sandbank.

Fly shooting is a destructive form of fishing that damages the seabed and has recently reemerged in UK waters.

Greenpeace protest against controversial flyshooter fishing vessel

The Offshore Brighton, Offshore Overfalls and Bassurelle Sandbank protected areas all exist to protect the seabed.

Bottom trawlers spent 68,000 hours fishing in UK-protected areas in 2020 alone, according to Greenpeace analysis.

A Greenpeace spokesman said: “Greenpeace has repeatedly reported incidents of AIS dark fishing in UK protected areas to the MMO.

“Despite this, the MMO has never followed up or prosecuted this illegal activity.

“Greenpeace is calling on the Government to ban bottom trawlers, supertrawlers and fly shooters from all UK MPAs to level up ocean protection.”

Greenpeace last week shadowed the Willem van der Zwaan, a massive, Dutch-flagged super trawler, through the Offshore Overfalls MPA to prevent it from hoovering up fish stocks.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson floated the possibility of a ban on “hoover trawlers”.

Express.co.uk has approached Defra for comment about the latest incidents, and Government policy in general.

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