Fishermen are warning that lives will be lost unless authorities start cracking down on the dangerous behaviour of foreign vessels in Scottish waters.
The latest calls for tougher action were made after the Defiant crew posted shocking video showing the French-registered Antonio Maria steaming in front and apparently trying to foul her propeller.
The incident happened early this morning (Monday), around 18 miles east of Unst, and was soon provoking heated debate on social media.
Having established via VHF radio that the position of the Antonio Maria‘s lines was clear of where he intended to work, Defiant skipper Magnus Polson began towing.
But 15 minutes later the Antonio Maria altered onto a collision course and within five minutes had come dangerously close to the port side of the Defiant.
Two crewmen appeared on the French vessel’s stern, and one of them threw a rope into the sea.
Attempts by Mr Polson to contact the vessel were unsuccessful and “due to close proximity and the endangered safety of our boat I had no choice but to begin hauling back our gear to make room”.
Tom Jamieson, one of the young crew members who bought the Defiant in December 2021, said the video didn’t even do justice just how close the boat was.
“Dangerous is an understatement,” he said.
Shetland Fisherman’s Association has called for calling for immediate and decisive action.
Executive officer Sheila Keith said: “This is yet another shocking incident.
“It is unacceptable that local crews legitimately and responsibly going about their work end up in fear of their lives due to the actively aggressive behaviour of those on board another vessel.
“The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) urgently needs not only to investigate but to act decisively to ensure this kind of behaviour does not occur again. Otherwise we are going to end up with fatalities at sea.”
Ms Keith also called for the MCA to establish a hotline for the reporting of such incidents.
“There needs to be a streamlined system so that information about these types of incident can be properly directed and swiftly dealt with,” she added/.
Safety fears have been escalating over recent years, following high profile incidents such when the Spanish-owned, German-registered gill netter Pesorsa Dos tried to foul the propeller of the Alison Kay in 2020.
Following the dangerous encounter, Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Scottish White Fish Producers Organisation, and Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael called for an investigation and tougher action against offending foreign vessels.
Although the Skipper of the Pesorsa Dos was eventually made to face trial, it was only after the Irish Navy became involved and detained the boat earlier this year.
Shetland fishermen want to see Marine Scotland taking a similarly tough approach – but have little faith that will happen.
“We know fine well Marine Scotland won’t even lift a finger about it,” Mr Jamieson said.
On the Fishing Forward Facebook page there were similar calls for action.
Donald MacNeil said: “These incidents are happening far too often and nothing gets done until someone gets killed or the vessel is disabled or sunk.
“That surely must be a permanent removal of their licenses and the offending vessels banned from our waters,it’s only a matter of time before something disastrous happens where is Marine Scotland’s [fisheries protection vessels].”
David John Anderson added: “Actions like these could end up costing fishermen’s lives, not just the vessels they fish with.
“The skipper and mate of the offending vessel needs to be stripped of their tickets and the company fined heavily.”
The Scottish government said: “The safety of fishers is of paramount importance and we take any allegations of behaviour that risks the lives of fishers, and the safety of vessels, very seriously.
“Whilst safety at sea for UK vessels is a reserved issue, we have already been in direct contact with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Joint Maritime Security Centre to share intelligence on this incident. We understand that the MCA will be raising this matter with the relevant French authorities.
“We are not aware of any fishery related offence having been shown to have taken place. However, we have dispatched a Marine Protection Vessel to the area to gather further information.”