BRITAIN last night announced it was sending a second fisheries protection vessel into the Bay of Biscay amid fears of fresh confrontations in the 'tuna wars' with Spain, as Ministry of Agriculture officials measured the nets used by a Cornish fishing boat escorted home from the area by the Royal Navy.
Alan Harris, a lawyer acting for the boat's owner, speaking outside Devonport naval base, near Plymouth, last night, said the Charisma's nets were 2,653 metres long. The maximum length of drift net allowed in European Union waters is 2,500 metres (1.6 miles).
The Charisma, was brought back to Devonport after allegations from Spanish fishermen that the drift nets used by some British boats were illegally long.
Mr Harris said: 'We think that when we bought the nets they were right, when they were loaded they were right, when they were measured before they set off they were right and we think that when they were used they were stretched or came under some kind of strain.'
As Charisma returned yesterday her skipper, Barrie Ball, claimed that fishery protection officers had used sledgehammers and crowbars to smash their way into the wheelhouse when they took charge of his boat. When initially boarded, Mr Ball had been reluctant to head for Devonport, saying he wished to return to his home port of Newlyn to land his catch.
Two police officers and half a dozen officials from the Ministry of Agriculture last night supervised unloading of the nets and their removal for measurement. Representatives of the Newlyn fishing community were allowed to witness the measuring.
As they did so another Cornish boat, the Silver Harvester, set off back for the tuna fishing grounds where last week four Spanish boats surrounded her and cut her nets.
On Saturday the fishery protection vessel HMS Alderney joined the Charisma to escort her back to England and put four officials on board with orders for her to head for Devonport. Mr Ball refused to comply and the ships's owner, his father, Barrie Ball senior, gave orders to his son to continue heading for Newlyn.
Early yesterday Mr Ball and his crew locked themselves in the wheelhouse and the officials smashed their way in and took control of the boat. The skipper said of the incident: 'It was very frightening - someone hammering on the door and someone coming round with a 14lb sledgehammer. I think it is downright ridiculous escorting one of their own into Devonport for no reason.'
As the Charisma was being escorted to Devonport anger continued to mount in the Newlyn fishing community.
The fishermen met to discuss the crisis in their tuna fishing fleet. David Harris, Conservative MP for St Ives and spokesman for the meeting said: 'The Spanish are trying to force us off these fishing grounds - that's what all this is about. It's not about lengths of nets, it's not about catching methods, it's a blatant attempt to drive our fishermen off these grounds where they have a right to be - it's a blatant attempt at thuggery on the high seas.'
Mr Harris called for a Navy frigate to be sent to the Bay of Biscay to protect the British boats, and insisted the Government should pay compensation to the fishermen for the lost nets and catch.
Privatise the sea, page 15
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies