Maltese fishermen have lamented the lack of protection from Armed Forces patrol boats deployed to monitor Maltese lampuki fishing rafts from being plundered in ‘the war at sea' with Tunisian fishermen. 

The first such incident was registered recently but despite the government's pledge of protection for Maltese fishermen, no assistance was forthcoming. 

“Apart from losing thousands of euros due to the damage sustained to the rafts and part of our catch being plundered, my concern is that tensions with Tunisian fisherman might escalate with tragic consequences,” a Maltese fisherman told Times of Malta.

“A few days ago I requested assistance when as a Tunisian vessel was taking my catch with complete impunity, but to my disappointment, I was informed by the Armed Forces to file a report as they were not in a position to deploy a patrol boat,” he added.

Last month Fisheries Minister Anton Refalo addressed a news conference in Marsaxlokk to announce that from this year the AFM would be conducting patrols to protect Maltese fishermen. Any incidents would be reported to the European Fisheries Control Agency and this initiative was the result of discussions with the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean.

Three weeks down the line, however, Maltese fishermen are complaining that they have been let down.

The alarm bells about these perennial disputes going back decades was raised by Nationalist MEP candidate Peter Agius in a Facebook post on Monday morning who described the commitment taken by Fisheries Minister Anton Refalo as nothing more than a “television stunt”. 

Agius acknowledged that the AFM might have other commitments but at the same time insisted that the government had to keep its word with the fishermen.

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba also reacted through Facebook but pointed his fingers to the European Union saying the latter should act through diplomacy.

The AFM and the Fisheries Ministry have been approached for a comment.

Meanwhile, a Maltese fisherman pointed out that the cost of making hundreds of rafts using palm fronds ranged between €4,000 and €10,000 depending on the number and the depth of the waters.

The fisherman pointed out that trying to defend these rafts was not an option as more often than not the Maltese would be outnumbered by the Tunisian vessels. Concerns have also been raised that the Tunisians might be carrying firearms.

“If there is no deterrent by the Maltese authorities, the consequences could be tragic as one day or another, things might come to a head,” he said.

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