The British authorities' apparent determination to get tough with French fishermen is underlined today as Royal Marine commandos join fisheries patrol boats in the Channel. The Ministry of Defence said that the marines will not initially be armed and that it is hoped their reputation will be enough to discourage further 'inappropriate action' by the French.
On Sunday, the French trawler La Calypso was boarded by a three-man naval party while sailing within the British six-mile limit, but its skipper, thought to be Michel Mesnage, ignored directions to sail for St Peter Port. The trawler then made for Cherbourg with one naval officer and two ratings on board.
Yesterday's five-strong boarding party from HMS Jersey successfully ordered the trawler's crew to put into St Peter Port where charges may be brought by the Guernsey authorities.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that the operation, which took place at about 1pm, was carried out peacefully while La Calypso was sailing close to or within the six-mile limit.
Possible infringements would include fishing illegally in British waters and failing to obey lawful commands by officers carrying out their fisheries protection duties. Police said they would pass the result of their inquiries to Chris Day, the island's attorney general, who would then consider if charges should be brought.
A spokeswoman for the French fishermen of lower Normandy accused the Navy of 'severe provocation'. She said Sunday's incident was 'a small error in behaviour'.
John Gummer, the Minister for Agriculture, said: 'The rule of law must be upheld. I have always emphasised the need for fisheries regulations to be properly enforced throughout the EC. The regulations are there to conserve fish and the long-term interests of the fishermen themselves.'
He said he had been in contact with the newly-elected French agriculture and fisheries minister on Thursday and there had been no disagreements between them. The decision to send in the marines follows incidents which include the boarding of a British training vessel, HMS Blazer in Cherbourg Harbour followed by the burning of a British flag.
Weather permitting, 12 marines will be transferred by helicopter today from Portland to the offshore patrol vessels Jersey and Orkney to reinforce naval boarding parties.
The marines are from 40 Commando, based at Taunton in Devon. The other British warships in the Channel area yesterday were the minehunters Brocklesby and Brinton.
A naval boarding party normally comprises an officer and two ratings: these will now be reinforced by two marines under command of an officer or NCO. The naval officer remains in overall command.
The marines will not carry arms initially but will do so if a situation deteriorates enough to warrant it. The marines are also skilled in unarmed combat and boarding duties. Marine captain Bill MacLennan said: 'It doesn't make much difference whether it's a trawler or a supertanker. 'Anything they're not familiar with relating to fishing they'll get a briefing on board.'
The Navy said it would review the situation 'sometime next week', when the marines might be withdrawn.
Danish fish war, page 8