Maltese fishermen and women are being urged to film and photograph potentially armed pirates plundering their lampuki fishing rafts because the Armed Forces might not be in a position to come to their rescue.
The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture issued the instruction after complaints that Maltese fishermen are being left unprotected despite the government’s pledge to launch army patrols.
Evidence gathered by the fishermen will then be used to make reports to the European Commission and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, the department said.
One fisherman, who asked to remain anonymous, said those in the industry had been collecting evidence “for years” and that despite sending videos and photos, along with GPS co-ordinates, the situation “only got worse.”
Last month, Fisheries Minister Anton Refalo announced the launch of AFM patrols to protect Maltese fishers in the clash with their Tunisian counterparts.
However, the fishermen complained that the AFM patrols boats were nowhere to be seen and that when they sought help, they were told to file a report on land.
“While we appreciate the efforts being made by the authorities, the bottom line is that these patrols have not served as a deterrent as incidents with Tunisian fishermen are still on the rise,” one fisherman said.
A spokesperson for the fisheries ministry acknowledged it may not always be possible to provide real-time assistance to fishermen because of the AFM’s other responsibilities.
The ministry called on fishermen to take as much evidence as possible when encountering unlawful activities on their lampuki fishing rafts through footage, photos and exact geographical locations, especially those outside Maltese waters.
“To date the department has received a number of reports with sufficient evidence and this shall strengthen Malta’s position when submitting a request for heightened controls by EU and GFCM compliance committee in international waters,” the spokesperson said.
The ministry insisted that these incidents were not happening in Maltese waters.
Apart from suffering losses as part of their catch is being looted, Maltese fishermen also say their rafts are being damaged.
They say Tunisian pirates outnumber the Maltese. They fear the Tunisians could be carrying firearms and any escalation in tensions could lead to injuries.
Meanwhile, Nationalist Party MEP candidate Peter Agius has raised the matter with Commissioner Virginijus Sinke-vičius in a letter making a number of proposals.
He is calling for measures to verify if tracking devices donated by the EU to Tunisian authorities are being properly used, and to investigate reports that the fish plundered to the detriment of the Maltese is being sold in Italy.
Agius also called on the commission to explore the possibility of doing spot checks to verify if vessel monitoring systems are being used, while attaching photos of Tunisian vessels allegedly plundering Maltese lampuki rafts.
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