British boat freed after being held for six days in France in a row of fishermen



he British trawler seized by France in the middle of the post-Brexit fishing line has been released by the French authorities and sets sail from Le Havre.

The ship was awaiting the decision of a French court on its release.

Jondy Ward, captain of the scallop dredge registered in Scotland, Cornelis Gert Jan, said earlier that he hoped he and his crew could “get out of here” soon.

The Irish skipper appeared before the Rouen Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

Mr Ward explained that French maritime police arrested the trawler last week for not being listed on a European register while fishing off the coast of Normandy.

The skipper said he was unsure whether this was a mistake on the part of British or French officials.

“We had everything on deck in order, as far as I’m concerned, we had everything in place to be legal,” he said.

He said the boat was “certainly” caught in the midst of the Franco-British feud over post-Brexit fishing deals.

The words were echoed by his lawyer.

Mathieu Croix told reporters after the hearing: “We are clearly caught in a political game because a whole story revolves around this whole affair, when in fact it is a rather mundane affair of fishing in an area that is supposed to be closed, and on the licenses that may or may not have been granted and the quantities of catches that are relatively modest.

“From there, given the current political climate, the case has exploded to levels which, in our opinion, are grossly disproportionate.”

Mr Croix added that the deposit of 150,000 euros (£ 127,000) demanded by the French authorities was excessive, given that the total value of the products on board was around 5,000 euros (£ 4,200). The amount of the bond ordered in connection with the release has not yet been communicated.

The product that France says of the Cornelis Gert Jan illegally captured in its waters was seized by the French maritime police, according to Mr. Croix.

Mr Ward has been charged with illegal fishing without a license in French territorial waters.

He will be tried next August, regardless of Wednesday’s decision, but the charges could be dropped before that date.

At the center of the post-Brexit fishing dispute are the licenses for French small boats, which are only issued if the vessels can demonstrate a history of fishing in British waters.

French President Emmanuel Macron had warned that Paris could prevent British boats from unloading their catches in French ports and tighten customs controls to protest what is claimed to be a refusal by British authorities to grant licenses to French boats.

But France suspended threats at the 11th hour as negotiations continued, a move hailed by Britain.

Downing Street on Wednesday acknowledged that France may reimpose its threats in the fisheries dispute as Brexit Minister Lord Frost prepares to meet with French Europe Minister Clément Beaune.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “He will be discussing both the (Northern Ireland) protocol and fisheries issues, we want to stress that our position on how we license does not matter. no case changed.

“But we want to discuss the larger issue of the protocol and suggest substantive changes.

“It is entirely up to the French government if it is to reimpose the threats that we have seen that they have both announced and backed off in recent days.”

Asked about the success of Thursday’s meeting in Paris, the spokesperson said: “We are seeking substantive changes to the protocol with the EU and these changes are necessary because the protocol as applied is extremely difficult.

“So we want to seek the agreement of the EU to make the necessary changes so that this can be sustainable in the long term.”

At the same time, talks organized by the European Commission to find a solution to the dispute have led to a “better understanding of the outstanding issues”, a Commission spokesperson said.

Speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday, the spokesperson said officials from the UK, France, Jersey and the European Commission met for the past two days.

He said: “These talks have allowed us to chart the way forward on several aspects and have created a positive momentum for a solution. Technical meetings will continue today, including also with some officials from Guernsey.

“The talks over the past few days have provided a better understanding of the outstanding issues that have hampered faster progress, and we hope that the positive engagement of all parties will soon translate into concrete results.


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