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Politics / Fisheries bill amendment seeks to enhance safety at sea

The Pesorsa Dos came within metres of the whitefish trawler Alison Kay during a confrontation in June this year.

NORTHERN Isles MP Alistair Carmichael is hoping the UK Government will accept an amendment to the Fisheries Bill which will give police or the coastguard the power to arrest vessels whose crews are accused of endangering lives at sea.

Described as the “Pesorsa Dos safety gap” Carmichael seeks to better protect fishermen at sea working in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The lack of any meaningful enforcement powers became clear earlier this summer when the German registered gill netter Pesorsa Dos allegedly attempted to cripple the propeller of the local whitefish trawler Alison Kay 30 miles west of Shetland.

The case was reported to the authorities but no action followed because the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has no jurisdiction outside the 12-mile limit.

As the UK is leaving the European Union and will be operating as an independent coastal state as of 1 January 2021, Carmichael’s move is designed to close that legal gap in safety at sea.

The Fisheries Bill will be debated in the Commons on Tuesday.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael.

Speaking ahead of the debate, the Orkney and Shetland MP said if the Tory government was serious about “taking back control” then they should have no problem with accepting his amendment.

He said: “Incidents like the one faced by the Alison Kay happen because those responsible believe that they can get away with it.

“If the government takes this problem seriously and accepts my amendment then we may be able to change that perception.”

He added: “The actions of the Pesorsa Dos this past summer were nothing new but if this sort of incident continues to happen, sooner or later a boat is going to be sunk and lives will be lost. The coastguard or police should be given the powers to stop this unsafe behaviour.

“The most important part of the amendment is the power to arrest ships in port, because these are businesses and they only make money when they are at sea.

“So, if their behaviour at sea endangers their ability to keep going to sea then they will take a longer harder look at themselves before trying something as reckless as that particular skipper did.

“I am pretty certain that the skipper of the Pesorsa Dos would not have tried what he tried if he had thought that he was going to suffer some consequence from it.”

Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief officer Simon Collins said: “Following years of intimidation and intentionally dangerous practices on the part of a number of visiting fishing vessels operating around Shetland, Alistair Carmichael’s proposed amendment is very welcome to the local fishing fleet.

“It is high time that the UK authorities have the means to enforce maritime safety throughout our waters and thereby enable our vessels to go about their legitimate business peacefully and safely.”