Maltese fisherman and their catch are being targeted by Tunisian pirate fishermen, with rising fears that an armed confrontation at sea might erupt anytime.
“What you are seeing are Tunisian fishermen fishing in Maltese seas using Maltese equipment,” former MEP candidate Peter Agius said as he raised the alarm – and it wasn’t just him.
“Over the last few hours I’ve been informed by a number of fishermen that once again a number of Tunisian fishermen are damaging Maltese fishing equipment and stealing lampuki caught by Maltese fishermen,” Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba said before pointing out that they might even be breaking European and international law by doing so.
This is not the first time these fishermen have plagued and plundered Maltese fishermen – previous reports of a ship named Bin Laden ramming Maltese fishing boats had previously raised the alarm.
Maltese fishermen have been trying to overcome these Tunisian pirates – but they are outnumbered and outgunned.
Whereas Maltese fishermen would be prepared to defend themselves from other Maltese fishermen, these new boats with up to 15 people on board, compared to the four or five people aboard a Maltese vessel, has left them terrified.
Armed confrontation seems inevitable at this point, with reports of Tunisian fishermen armed with machetes and Molotov cocktails coming within feet of Maltese ships.
The Tunisian fishermen are believed to be taking advantage of Maltese equipment, and stealing their catch.
Fishermen use a particular piece of equipment called a kannizzatta that is personalised to each fisherman. However, once someone takes the catch from the kannizzatta, it becomes much less effective, seeing as the fish would have grown aware of its position. Therefore, fishermen whose catch has been stolen are left empty-handed.
Just last month, authorities had said that an Armed Forces of Malta vessel would be accompanying these fishermen to protect them from “four Tunisian boats” believed to be behind the thefts.
“These are just four Tunisian boats doing the poaching… the Armed Forces will be observing the area and we can then raise any issues in the European fora,” Paul Piscopo, the secretary of the Malta Fishers Cooperative had told MaltaToday.
The AFM vessel was meant to report acts of poaching by any foreign fisherman – however, Peter Agius said these protective forces were not protecting Maltese fishermen at all.
“Two weeks ago, Minister [Anton] Refalo announced that the AFM would be present in Maltese seas enforcing the law and protecting Maltese and Gozitan fishermen. This was just a show for television,” he said.
“In two separate cases, the fishermen called the AFM for help and were told: ‘Right now we cannot help you, file a report when you get back to land’,” he said while calling for stronger deterrents in Malta’s seas.