Fish dispute strands holiday Britons

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THE blockade of northern Spanish ports by Spanish fishermen is forcing hundreds of British holidaymakers, booked on Spain-England car ferries, to drive through France to get home.

Several hundred Britons due to leave the Basque port city of Bilbao today will only learn the bad news when they arrive at the dock, possibly after a day or more of driving from southern coastal resorts in scorching heat. The two big ferry companies linking England with northern Spain, Britanny and P & O, have been forced to move their operations to the French ports of Roscoff and Cherbourg respectively. Britanny Ferries runs twice weekly between Plymouth and Santander; P & O between Portsmouth and Bilbao.

About 300 fishing boats lined up outside key northern ports for the second day yesterday, in protest against what they consider lack of government support in their dispute with French fishermen. Spanish tuna boats still use rod and line as opposed to the much smaller hi-tech French fleet that employs drift nets. The Spanish are reluctant to use nets, as this would exacerbate high unemployment in the Basque area.

The Agriculture Minister, Luis Atienza, and the Defence Minister, Julian Garcia Vargas, both appeared in parliament yesterday to explain the situation and both appealed to the fishermen not to 'pour fuel on the fire'. Mr Garcia Vargas said the navy had no plans to intervene to break the blockade. Passengers on Britanny Ferries' Val de Loire set out to drive or take buses to Spain from Roscoff in Brittany, because the ferry was unable to enter Santander harbour yesterday. In Santander hundreds of exhausted Britons set off for Roscoff after spending the night in hotels or, in some cases, their cars.

The environmental protection group, Greenpeace, said yesterday its flagship Rainbow Warrior was headed for the northern Spanish coast to support the Spanish fishermen. The organisation accused the French of 'illegal' netting but also claimed the Spaniards are equally guilty in the Strait of Gibraltar.