PM pledges to protect fishermen
Vessel 'pushed' by tugboat
The government would not tolerate a situation where Maltese fishermen going about their business and observing the law were attacked and obstructed, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi warned yesterday.
He was justifying the intervention of the armed forces to defend fishermen last Sunday in one of the latest clashes on the high seas between environmentalists and Maltese tuna ranchers.
"We can't accept that anyone intervenes and disrupts the work and puts the lives and health of Maltese citizens in danger," he said on the Nationalist Party's radio.
Sunday's was the latest such clash. Another occurred last Thursday over Malta-bound tuna pens 45 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, which left two divers injured when a vessel of the Sea Shepherd conservation society rammed the tuna pen claiming the catch inside was illegal.
As long as Maltese fishermen acted legally they would have the government and the international community's full protection, Dr Gonzi said, stressing that no organisation could justify its cause by using the wrong tactics.
His defence of the fishermen rested on the premise that they were hauling a legal catch and follows on the stand of the Rural Affairs Ministry on Friday. The ministry insisted the catch had all the necessary paperwork.
However, Paul Watson, Greenpeace founder and a Sea Shepherd captain, insisted yesterday the bluefin tuna they released on Thursday had been caught illegally because there were no representatives from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas or of the Maltese authorities, as there should have been.
"Now, if this bluefin tuna was going to Malta, why were there no ICCAT inspectors on board" Capt. Watson asked.
He pointed out that, in previous days, the Sea Shepherd crew had inspected numerous cages and did not take any action against any of them, saying that, on one occasion, even the Armed Forces of Malta were present. After asking for permission, the Sea Shepherd crew inspected the cage under AFM supervision. "We didn't interfere with any of those legal vessels once we established they were legal."
Capt. Watson rejected comments by one of the injured divers who said that the Sea Shepherd crew was out to hurt the divers and reiterated that the Sea Shepherd did not ram the tuna pen intentionally but was being "pushed" by a tug boat belonging to the fishermen.
Asked about the prospect of legal action being taken against them, Capt. Watson welcomed the prospect saying it would be an "excellent opportunity to expose the illegalities in the Maltese tuna industry".
When asked why his group was taking the law into its hands, he said European governments were not doing their duty and had a bias in favour of the industry. Someone had to do the job, Capt. Watson insisted.