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Military boats patrol Jersey amid row

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-07 09:34

French fishing fleet is seen at the entrance to the harbor in St Helier, Jersey, May 6, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

British Prime Minster Boris Johnson underlined his "unwavering support" for the island of Jersey and ordered Royal Navy vessels to patrol the waters off the Channel Island, amid an escalating dispute between the United Kingdom and France over post-Brexit fishing arrangements.

French fishing vessels arrived in the Jersey port of St Helier on Thursday to protest over lack of access to British fishing grounds, with French trawler crews angry at restrictions issued by the island under a system launched last week, British and French media reported.

French authorities also confirmed that they would send a military vessel arriving "imminently" to carry out a "patrol mission", according to a Sky News report, which also suggested a second boat was en route.

The BBC said approximately 70 French fishing boats had made the journey across to the island.

A fisherman, Camille Lecureuil, from the port of Carteret on the French coast opposite Jersey, told the news agency Agence France-Presse that the protesters would block a cargo vessel due to leave the port, but that they planned to return to France in the afternoon.

"Everyone seems to have decided to stop it from leaving. Fishing boats are moving into position at the entrance of the port," he said from onboard his vessel.

"It's a peaceful movement, there's no need for things to get out of hand," he added. "We even have support from Jersey. Three fishing boats from the island have come to support us."

There is support among some Jersey fishers for the protest, reported The Guardian. It quoted Chris Le Masurier, the owner of the Jersey Oyster Company, who said conditions placed on French fishers were "insulting and discriminatory".

A spokesperson for Johnson said the prime minister held phone conversations with Jersey's chief minister and external relations minister on Wednesday evening that "stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access".

The spokesperson said: "The prime minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey. He said that any blockade would be completely unjustified. As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two off shore patrol vessels to monitor the situation."

Previously, France had threatened to cut off its power supply to the Channel Island over the dispute. French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin warned that the country was ready to take "retaliatory measures".

Jersey authorities have requested that French ships be equipped with monitoring devices and meet other criteria to obtain licenses for the number of days they can operate in shared waters, reported the Financial Times.

The European Union warned in a statement that applying such conditions without prior warning breaches the EU-UK trade deal agreed last year.

The European Commission said it has "clearly indicated" to Britain that rights enshrined in the two sides' trade deal "have not been respected".

"Until the UK authorities provide further justifications on the new conditions (for licenses), these new conditions should not apply," the spokesperson said.

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