The procedure set in motion to de-flag six fishing vessels belonging to Darren Debono is set to be scrutinised in an action for judicial review after preliminary pleas by the State were dismissed by the court.

The procedure had been set in motion by the Registrar General of Shipping and the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Transport.

The State had set the procedure in motion in the wake of the arrest and subsequent prosecution in Italy of Mr Debono, a shareholder in World Water Fisheries, over his alleged involvement in a fuel smuggling racket, a serious offence in breach of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the US Government against Libya.

However, the cancellation of the flags of the MV Albasel, MV Marie De Lourdes, MV Marie De Lourdes I, III and V and the MV Zeus, was not effected after the Court upheld a request by their owner World Water Fisheries for a warrant of prohibitory injunction.

Meanwhile, in a partial judgment, the First Hall, Civil Court, presided over by Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti, rejected preliminary pleas raised by the respondents – including their argument that the minister was non-suited.

Other pleas that no administrative action had been taken, that there had been no order or direction amounting to such and that the applicant had not identified the right claimed, were all thrown out by the Court.

Indeed, the Court observed that were it not for the injunction proceedings and the relative warrant issued, “the cancellation [of the flags] would have been effected.”

The minister, when testifying in the proceedings, said he had issued instructions to the Registrar of Shipping to effect the de-flagging as recommended by the Surveillance Board, to avoid any possible negative impact upon the Maltese flag.

The letter sent by the respondents informing the company that its ships were going to be de-registered within the month, if the current situation persisted, was indeed an administrative decision kept in abeyance for one month, the court concluded.

As the case continues, the Court will deliver a judgment on the merits at a later stage.

Lawyer Victor Bugeja is assisting the applicant.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us