Tunisian fisherman intercepted by Maltese armed forces inside Maltese fisheries’ zone

Two Tunisian registered fishing vessels were yesterday Sunday intercepted by an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) patrol in an area west of the island of Gozo. The protection of Malta’s maritime claims such as territorial seas and Fisheries Conservation and Management Zone is one of the core responsibilities of the AFM and its Maritime Squadron.

The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) within the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights, with the AFM’s assistance, conducts surveillance in both territorial and international waters in order to fulfil fisheries’ obligations as part of Malta’s routine fishery controls. These routine fishery patrols are thus not exclusively target towards any particular country but are specifically focused on FADs (Fishing Aggregated Devices) in international waters.

In a statement by the AFM, issued only this Monday morning, the Maltese military said that the Tunisian fishermen were inside the Maltese Fisheries Conservation and Management zone when they were intercepted by their Maritime Squadron asset which deployed its personnel by RHIB dinghy to board the fishing vessels.

Subsequently, both vessels were escorted to Valletta’s Grand Harbour for the night, for further investigations are required by the authorities from the Maltese Fisheries’ Department, as well as the Malta Police Force.

The AFM at this time of the year is known to be patrolling the sea where Maltese fishermen lay out their fishing lines in a bid to stave off the friction with Tunisian fishers. However, no further details were made available by the AFM as to which of their Maritime Squadron assets was utilised during its patrol and intercept.

In September 2020, Maltese fishers were told that the AFM were unavailable and they should make a report once on land after Tunisian fishing vessels were seen on Maltese lampuki fishing lines, the then former Nationalist MEP and now senior PN spokesperson Dr Peter Agius said. Similar concerns were raised by Labour MEP Dr Alex Agius Saliba, who however did not point his finger at the Maltese authorities for failure to honour their pledge to protect Maltese fishers.

Malta, in collaboration with several ministries, submitted to the European Commission considerable data gathered via official and unofficial actions regarding Tunisian fishing vessels’ activity in zones of Maltese competence. Following such comments, Maltese authorities aggressively engaged with the European Commission and the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) to examine these illegal actions. Meetings are held on a weekly basis, and the European Commission, as well as the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, are anticipated to make progress with Tunisia.

Furthermore, Malta, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is reaching out to Tunisia on a bilateral basis with the goal of resolving this problem and preserving the livelihoods of Maltese fishermen.