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Police working with foreign agencies over tuna clashes

The police have sought the assistance of foreign counterparts in their investigations into at least three clashes between Maltese tuna fishermen and environmentalists last month.

Although they did not specify who they were working with, the police said yesterday contacts were through established channels.

The investigations are being spearheaded by the Administrative Law Enforcement Unit which, sources said, was busy talking to witnesses and examining video and photographic evidence to establish what actually took place.

Asked whether they intended to arraign anyone over the clashes, the police said they were not yet in a position to say.

Two of the clashes involved the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. In one of them, two fishermen were injured and hundreds of fish were freed off the coast of Tripoli, Libya. In the second, fishermen rallied to defend their tuna pens and the Libyan navy intervened to head off what might have been another ugly incident.

In an earlier clash with Greenpeace International, no one was injured and no tuna were released although the Armed Forces of Malta were called in to protect a pen.

No international arrest warrants have been issued so far, with the sources pointing out that there needed to be enough proof against an individual for the police to do so. Solid grounds had to be established and the investigation could not be rushed.

A spokesman for Greenpeace said the organisation had not been contacted by the police, whether in writing or by phone. Nevertheless, the organisation would be more than happy to cooperate with the investigation and was willing to give written or verbal evidence. The organisation actually welcomed the investigation as it would shed light on the fishermen's behaviour, the spokesman said.

Sea Shepherd could not be contacted yesterday. Captain Paul Watson, who headed the society's anti-tuna fishing operation in the Mediterranean, was recently placed on the international wanted list by the Japanese coastguard over similar clashes with whale fishermen. He had already welcomed any legal action being taken in Malta, saying it would be an opportunity to expose the local tuna industry.

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