The owner of a fishfarm has admitted one of its trawlers caused a small fishing boat to capsize, knocking two men into the water along with all of their belongings.

Charles Azzopardi, however, denied the trawler smashed into the smaller vessel, but instead claimed the boat was overturned by waves made by the trawler as it passed by. 

The incident was detailed in a Facebook post by Aleandro Spiteri Monsigneur,  who described a horror end to his first-ever fishing trip on July 13.

He and his friend, Jake, told Times of Malta they have filed a police report and claim the trawler hit their boat after heading straight towards it. Instead of apologising, its captain warned them not to return. 

Spiteri Monsigneur described how the pair had set off roughly 10 kilometers off St. Paul's Bay coast in a 16-foot boat, close to fish farms owned by Azzopardi Fisheries.

After attempting to settle at a spot to fish, trawlers approached them asking to relocate elsewhere.

Once they moved next to around 25 other small fishing boats 30 metres away from the fish farm, they noticed another, bigger trawler heading in their direction, Spiteri Monsigneur recounted.

"As he approached us, we noticed the trawler was clearly planning to pass by us, but assumed the trawler would, as normally happens, pass round the smaller boats, or signal us by a horn or a handwave if he needed us to move, to which, again, we would have showed no objection, obviously," he said.

'Do not come here again'

Yet, the trawler did not change direction, and it was too late for Spiteri Monsigneur or his friend to untie the ropes or move out of the way.

"The trawler headed straight onto us, colliding with us and causing the boat to capsize and all of our belongings (phones, wallets, keys, camera etc.) to drown."

Matters only got worse, as he recounted the captain's reaction. 

"Tort tagħkom (your fault)," he said, "terġgħux tiġu hawn!", (do not come here again!) before heading straight on and continuing whatever he was planning to do, as if nothing had happened."

Unharmed from the accident, fishermen on other nearby boats helped them to safety and another trawler helped them turn the boat the right way around. 

He said that he later on found out that fishing within a certain radius of private fish farms is not allowed, but a rule which very few fishermen adhere to because of the "severely depleted fish populations."

"This provides absolutely no justification to run over two young guys who were on what was meant to be a fun, recreational fishing trip(...) potentially killing us had one of us been unable to swim or had the trawler been just a few inches more to the right."

He said he hoped his story would highlight the "bullying" actions of the fishfarm owners.

His friend, Jake said that he has been out fishing all his life, and that such an incident never happened before. 

“We were the only boat out of 25 which were firstly kicked out and secondly capsized- the rest were left to fish in peace,” he told Times of Malta.

He said that the other trawler that helped them was owned by Azzopardi Fisheries, and assumed the boat was called after the captain contacted Charles Azzopardi.

“They wouldn’t have needed to help if the captain hadn’t flipped me in the first place.”

Fish farm thefts

Responding to the claims, Azzopardi told Times of Malta that he had video evidence to prove that the trawler did not hit the small boat, but that waves caused by it overturned the smaller boat.

"The small boat capsized after the trawler passed the small boat, as it capsized due to the waves, not because we hit it," Azzopardi told Times of Malta.  

He also claimed that it was the company's trawler which flipped the boat the right way. 

"After the accident, we went and drained the water from their boat and flipped it over, and dropped them off at Xemxija. We also hired divers to go and retrieve their belongings such as their keys."

Azzopardi said that he has given all the photos and video evidence to the men.

He claimed there was a growing problem of fishermen and amateur fishermen are stealing fish from their farms. 

"We never want to hurt anyone, but this continues to happen where boats continue to fish from our fish farms, and this is how we make a living," he said.

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