FISHERMEN voiced their anger after an incident off Dursey which saw an Irish fishing trawler claiming it was threatened by a foreign-registered vessel inside the 12-mile limit.
The incident was filmed by the crew of the Irish trawler Lours de Mer, and shows the other vessel coming dangerously close to the Irish boat.
The Irish skipper can be heard radioing the other vessel and telling them to ‘stay away from us’ as the foreign trawler – believed to be Spanish – is getting increasingly close.
The incident, last Friday, came just two days after southern fishermen held a peaceful rally in Cork city about the plight of the industry.
Industry chiefs have been warning that the ‘disastrous’ Brexit deal for the Irish fishing industry would lead to such incidents.
As the situation was developing, Patrick Murphy of the Irish South & West Fish Producers’ Organisation told The Southern Star that he was appalled by what he had seen on the video.
‘If an Irish vessel behaved like this off Rockall, it would be taken into a UK port. The UK has already flagged that if a vessel infringes the rules it will revoke its authorisation to fish in its waters forever more,’ said Mr Murphy. ‘Why is this being allowed to happen?’
Several fishermen voiced their anger at the incident, under the Facebook video ‘Other countries’ government’s would be prepared to go to war over such an infringement of sovereign rights,’ said one.
‘This has to stop,’ said another commentator. ‘Something has to change. This will boil our blood as fishermen. Someone is going to get hurt. Thieves and yes we are the laughing stock of Europe. There is only so much a man can take. We are quiet too long.’
Owner/skipper of the Lours de Mer, Kieran Sheehan, told Niall Duffy of The Skipper magazine how the situation developed.
‘We were trawling on what is known locally as the 10 mile tow which is normally clear of any fixed gear like gillnets and longlines. It keeps you clear of the vast amount of gear that is shot by foreign vessels just on the 12-mile limit.’
‘As we towed to the north-west the Spanish longliner approached our stern at 11.5 knots and began to circle us at a distance of less than 50 metres. The Spanish skipper was screaming at us out of his wheelhouse window about gear that he had shot and warning us to change our course,’ he added.
‘He came on the VHF and told us the position of the NW end of his longlines which, when we plotted them, showed his gear shot 8.5 miles from the Bull Rock which is off the SW tip of Dursey Island. This position is well inside the 12 mile territorial limit and he had no reason to have gear shot there.’
‘I then alerted the Irish authorities via Valentia Radio and this seemed to warn the Spanish vessel off. For our safety we altered course to avoid his gear position and continued our tow.’
Kieran Sheehan added: ‘Myself and the crew felt intimidated and vulnerable by the actions of the Spanish skipper and at one stage he altered course and came straight at us before veering off at the last minute.
‘Our 18 mtr 90 ton fibreglass boat was dwarfed by the 32 mtr -274 ton Spanish longliner and if we had collided I know we would have suffered severe damage.
‘Every year these foreign vessels are getting closer and closer to our shoreline and it is about time that the rules governing our inshore fishing grounds were enforced,’ he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Murphy said he was very disappointed to see that the Taoiseach Micheál Martin had chosen to be in Dublin when an estimated 1,000 fishermen and women walked to his constituency office in Cork last Wednesday, to hand in a letter of their demands, even though he had been given plenty of notice of their intention.
As a result, the IS&WFPO is discussing the possibility of holding another similar rally in Dublin in the coming weeks.
‘We might have a better chance of meeting the Taoiseach if we come to Dublin than his native Cork, it seems,’ Mr Murphy added.
This week Cork South West Ind Deputy Michael Collins said: ‘Irish fishing men and women fishing inside the 12-mile limit for local fishing, derive the protection of the national flag.’ He added that the State needs to support them.
He said that he had seen a Spanish boat fishing within the 10-mile limit off Castletownbere, where foreign trawlers are not supposed to fish, intimidate an Irish vessel and crew last week.
‘Why would the Irish navy and government not intervene, despite numerous calls for them to do so on the day, from 8am onwards?’ he asked.
He called on the Taoiseach and the government to explain why they had ‘let the fishing community down yet again’.
This week the navy issued a statement saying that on Monday evening the Irish Naval Service Vessel Lé Róisín detained a Spanish-registered fishing vessel approximately 95 nautical miles south of Mizen Head.
The detention was in relation to alleged breaches of fishing regulations. The vessel was escorted to port, where on arrival it was handed over to An Garda Síochána.
This is the fifth vessel detained by the Naval Service in 2021.
‘The Defence Forces conducts at-sea fishery inspections in line with the service level agreement with the Sea Fishery Protection Authority, as part of its delivery of government services to the state,’ the Naval Service said in the statement.