Spanish trawler seized in Channel

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The Independent Online

in Brussels

Anglo-Spanish relations soured by the fish war with Canada looked set to worsen last night with the arrest of a Spanish boat suspected of using illegal nets in the English Channel.

HMS Shetland, acting as a fisheries patrol vessel, boarded the 31.5 metre- long Chimbote in the south-western approaches off Cornwall. The 31.5m long boat, suspected of using mesh smaller than is allowed by EU regulations, is being escorted towards Plymouth.

Meanwhile in Brussels, European and Canadian negotiators were in despair last night as last-minute problems with Portugal and Spain blocked a deal to end the month-old fish war.

"It is a fistful of halibut," one official said. "This is crazy."

Portugal, which like Spain fishes the North-west Atlantic, wants more of the new fishing quotas share-out. The EU has won about 43 per cent of the Greenland halibut catch - 11,500 tonnes. Most goes to Spain, but Portugal is arguing about 500 or so tonnes - worth less than £300,000, the official said. "The dispute has cost more than that in telephone bills, hotel rooms and air fares," he added.

A deal is still on the table, and only EU internal divisions prevented a solution. Intensive talks between diplomats last night failed to reach a solution and they said they could reconvene at any time.

Such last-minute hostage-taking has bedevilled EU decision-making as it has increased in size.

Portugal threw the spanner in the works as EU ambassadors met to consider a deal agreed on Thursday with Canada, which gives the EU much of what it wanted by rescinding Canada's claim to police international waters, agreeing Ottawa will repay the bond posted for the Estai, the trawler seized last month, and putting in place tough measures to enforce fisheries conservation, a key Canadian demand.

The sticking-point came in dividing the 27,000 tons that has been agreed as the total allowable catch of Greenland halibut.

Canada had set a quota for the EU of 3,400 tons, down from an average EU catch a year of 37,000-tons in 1991-1993. Spain said the EU should have half the total - 13,500 tons. Canada then upped its figure to 10,000 for Spain and Portugal.

In negotiations, that rose to about 11,500 tons by taking quotas away from other states (mainly Russia) that were unable to catch the fish. With the same figure for Canada, that left about 4,000 tons for Japan and others.

Yesterday, to the horror of diplomats, Portugal threw down the gauntlet and demanded more. Denmark, another ally of Britain, said it was worried about the Faroe Islands, which also fish the disputed area. The only way to get more of the fish would be to strip it from smaller states. Deadlock ensued.

Politics, local sensibilities and internecine feuds mean the dispute's cause - how to preserve stocks of a small, oily fish - has receded into the background. CORK (AFP) - A Spanish-crewed trawler was seized on Thursday 58 miles off Mizen Head off southwest Ireland and escorted into port at Cork.

The Lord Ivan, which flies a British flag, is the fifth Spanish-crewed vessel to be intercepted by Irish coast guards since Sunday.