Plea for Royal Navy protection after French attack on Brixham boats
THE Royal Navy must be used to protect fishermen from further attacks by the French, a Brixham boat owner has urged.
Andrew McLeod's vessel, Van Dijck, was caught up in the confrontation between British scallopers and angry Gallic fishermen off the French coast.
The crew of the Van Dijck said the French hurled rocks, fired flares and dropped ropes into propellers in what appeared a premeditated assault on British vessels fishing legally in international waters.
The French are angry UK boats are allowed into the waters while they abide by a self-imposed closed season which ended on October 1.
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Mr McLeod said: "Protection from the Royal Navy is something we've been asking for for some time."
He said the British had been in negotiations with the French over access to the rich scallop beds 15 miles off the coast of Caen.
An agreement had almost been reached for the British to stay out of the area in return for a swap of fishing efforts.
Currently boats like the Van Dijck are allowed far fewer days at sea than the French.
However, Mr McLeod said the deal faltered at the last minute because one French boat owner objected.
He said: "My boat is only allowed to fish for 36 days in an area between the Dover Straits and the north of Ireland so we have to go to the best area.
"They are unhappy because we've been landing a good amount of scallops in an area where stocks are very healthy."
He said he had some sympathy with the French fishermen who were not getting the same price for their catch as the UK fishermen, but not with their methods.
He said the Van Dijck's skipper, Gary Smith, had spotted 25 to 30 vessels steaming out of the French port and heading straight at the British.
They came across the bow of his boat and blocked its path.
"It was unsavoury, very dangerous, and definitely seemed co-ordinated," Mr McLeod said.
Another Brixham-based fisherman, Anton Bailey, claimed four French boats 'threw rocks and tried to ram us'.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it had contacted French coastguards, who sent a patrol vessel to the area.
Brixham councillor Vic Ellery has sent an open latter to MP Sarah Wollaston, calling for naval protection for the boats.
He said: "I have been ask by the South West Fish Producers Organisation to ask that you immediately ask the Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon to instruct the Royal Navy to protect our fishermen from hostile French interference while lawfully carrying out their scallop fishing.
"As a councillor representing the Brixham fleet, whose vessels have been intimidated and threatened, it is crucial protection is forthcoming before someone gets seriously hurt."
The Totes MP said she had been 'horrified' by the actions of the French and had already been in touch with the minister.
She added: "I have spoken to Richard Benyon and he has been following the incident closely. He has tasked the Royal Navy to work with the French Navy to make sure this doesn't escalate."