French officials today sent two patrol boats to Jersey that are smaller and have less firepower than the two Royal Navy warships which are already roaming the English Channel amid an ongoing row over post-Brexit fishing rights.
The FS Athos and FS Thémis sailed along the River Seine from Rouen to Le Havre then around Cherbourg towards Jersey – after two UK Navy vessels began patrolling waters around the island amid concerns of a possible blockade.
HMS Severn and HMS Tamar have been deployed by the UK Government to ‘monitor the situation’ at the Channel Island amid a protest by French fishing vessels at the port of St Helier over the lack of access.
But today, the 97ft Athos was sent in by the French – despite it being significantly smaller than the 260ft Severn and 296ft Tamar, and only having one cannon – compared to the UK boats, which have eight guns between them.
The Athos has one Oerlikon 20mm cannon; while the Severn has the same plus two general purpose machine guns; and the Tamar has one Bushmaster 30mm cannon, two general purpose machine guns and two miniguns.
Meanwhile, the Thémis is slightly longer at 172ft, but is still underweight on firepower, with one Browning machine gun.
It comes as French fishermen said they were this morning bracing themselves to ‘restage the Battle of Trafalgar’ as they prepared to take on the Royal Navy in a war over Jersey fishing.
The HMS Severn has a crew of 30 compared to 13 for the FS Athos and is far better armed, as these graphics show
The HMS Tamar comes with one cannon, two machine guns and two miniguns, while the FS Thémis is more lightly armed
The Athos (A712) travelled along the Seine from Rouen to Le Havre then around Cherbourg towards Jersey today (file image)
HMS Severn (P282) is a Royal Navy River Class Offshore Patrol Vessel with a total displacement of 1,677 tonnes (file picture)
HMS Tamar (P233) is also a River Class Offshore Patrol Vessel but has a bigger total displacement of 2,000 tonnes (file image)
Up to 100 vessels from Normandy and Brittany steamed towards the Channel Island to protest against their reduced rights in British waters.
Jean-Claude La Vaullée, skipper of Le Cach, said: ‘I’ve refuelled the boat – we’re ready to restage the Battle of Trafalgar.’
The Athos boat travelled along the River Seine from Rouen to Le Havre then around Cherbourg towards Jersey today
The furious Mr La Vaullée, who has been fishing off Jersey for more than 40 years, said he had now been given the right to ’11 hours fishing a year’ in the area.
Around 100 French boats gathering around St Helier, the Jersey capital, were packed with flares and other potential weapons.
French maritime minister Annick Girardin yesterday accused Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, of refusing to issue adequate new licences to her country’s fishermen.
She said France was ready to take ‘retaliatory measures’ – suggesting it could cut power to Jersey, which receives 95 per cent of its electricity from France.
Royal Navy ships HMS Severn and HMS Tamar meanwhile arrived from Portsmouth ‘as a precaution’.
The Battle of Trafalgar of 1805 was in fact a massive defeat for the French and Spanish fleets, as Admiral Lord Nelson led the Royal Navy to a historic victory.
The French fishermen have been told by the Channel Island authorities that strict new fishing conditions had been imposed following Brexit.
Bertrand Sorre, France’s English Channel MP, said: ‘This unilateral decision by Jersey is totally illegal. We have been subject to the whims of the United Kingdom for too long. The European Commission must do its job.’
Romain Davodet, another French fisherman, said they had been told that the Jersey decision ‘were irreversible’ and around 250 vessels faced disaster, along with ‘more than 2,000 jobs ashore.’
British ships HMS Severn and HMS Tamar arrived at Jersey from Portsmouth ‘as a precaution’, the Ministry of Defence said
Where the HMS Severn, HMS Tamar and Athos are this morning in relation to the British-French border outside Jersey
A flotilla of fishing vessels at St Helier harbour in Jersey today as French fishermen protest post-Brexit changes to fishing
French fishing industry leader David Sellam meanwhile accused the Jersey authorities of being lead ‘by extremists’.
French fishing vessels approaching Jersey was ‘like an invasion’
The sight of dozens of French fishing vessels approaching a harbour in Jersey in protest as flares shot up into the sky has been described as looking ‘like an invasion’.
Some 60 boats were estimated to have gathered at the port of St Helier this morning amid a ‘sea of red lights and flares’. Jersey fisherman Josh Dearing said French vessels had first gathered from about 4.30am outside the harbour, before moving into the harbour after 6am and retreating shortly after 7am. The 28-year-old, who owns The Jersey Catch fishing company, said the scene was ‘was quite a sight’.
He said: ‘There were probably about 60 boats. There were a few hand-held flares and smoke flares going off and apparently a few maybe bangers and stuff going off from the French.’ He said the fleet was mostly made up of ‘big French dredgers and trawlers’ of about 12 metres or more.
Mr Dearing, who is originally from Kent but has lived in Jersey for around a decade, added: ‘It was quite a sight. It was impressive, I looked from the shore this morning and it was just like a sea of red lights and flares already going off at sea. It was like an invasion.’
There had been rumblings about a planned protest a few days ago, Mr Dearing said, but added that he had not been sure if it was ‘serious or empty threats’. He said: ‘The French being the French, they don’t mess around. They can blockade their own harbours – they wouldn’t think twice about coming and doing it to us.’
He was ‘absolutely’ pleased to hear last night that Royal Navy vessels were being deployed to patrol the waters around Jersey. He said: ‘We’re completely unprotected in Jersey. We’ve got nothing except for a few police officers. We don’t have a police boat, we don’t have a navy boat, we don’t have anything to protect us. The French can be hostile. All of our livelihoods are in that harbour and if they wanted to they could cause damage.’
Mr Dearing, who said his fishing licence costs about £40,000, said French fishermen who have not been granted a licence to fish had ‘thrown their toys out of the pram’. He said: ‘Jersey fisheries has done nothing wrong. They’ve issued the permits to the French fisherman that were entitled to them and the ones that aren’t entitled don’t get the permits and that’s just life, that’s how it is. The guys that have historical rights [to fish] have been granted them, as they should’ve done, and the ones that haven’t have just thrown their toys out of the pram.’
‘We have in front of us people who are not of good will,’ Mr Sellam told Ouest France (West France) newspaper.
‘Jersey is plagued by an extremist fringe led by Environment Minister John Young and local fisheries committee director Don Thompson.
‘All they want is to see the French fishing effort reduced and they profit from Brexit. If we want peace, let’s prepare for war. If we want to bring the Jersey fishery to its knees, we can do it.’
Théo Marais, anther French fisherman said: ‘I’m having my first boat built. I’m 24, it’s a €825,000 boat (and) I’m not even sure I can launch it. We love our jobs. We don’t want to live on aid, what we want is to work.’
France’s £1.6billion-a-year fishing industry supports 65,000 jobs and is hugely reliant on Britain.Many of the country’s 23,000 fishermen spend a huge amount of time in UK waters.
Those working in packaging and other processing roles also deal with huge amounts of seafood from British waters.
Most of the French fishing industry is based on its northern English Channel coast – where, before Brexit, boats from places like Normandy and Brittany enjoyed nearly 50 years of shared seas thanks to the EU.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to Jersey Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondre and External Affairs Minister Ian Gorst yesterday, and ‘underlined his unwavering support’ for the island.
Dozens of French boats arrived at the harbour this morning, with some crews setting off flares during the so far peaceful protest, according to the Jersey Evening Post.
The newspaper later said the leader of the protest had asked the French boats to leave the harbour to let a freight ferry, the Commodore Goodwill, depart.
Jersey fisherman Josh Dearing described the scene at the port of St Helier this morning as ‘like an invasion’, with the French fleet mostly made up of ‘big French dredgers and trawlers’ of 12 metres or more.
The 28-year-old said: ‘There were probably about 60 boats. There were a few hand-held flares and smoke flares going off and apparently a few maybe bangers and stuff going off from the French.
‘It was quite a sight. It was impressive, I looked from the shore this morning and it was just like a sea of red lights and flares already going off at sea. It was like an invasion.’
Paris has warned it could cut off power to the island, which receives 95 per cent of its electricity from France through three undersea cables, in retaliation for the fallout.
A UK Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘HMS Severn and HMS Tamar are deploying to Jersey to conduct maritime security patrols. This is a strictly precautionary measure and has been agreed with the Jersey Government.’
A Downing Street spokesman added: ‘The Prime Minister and Chief Minister stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions and for dialogue between Jersey and France on fishing access. The Prime Minister underlined his unwavering support for Jersey.
Around 100 French boats gathering around St Helier today have been packed with flares and other potential weapons
French fishing vessels staging a protest outside the harbour at St Helier today in the row over post-Brexit fishing rights
A flotilla of fishing vessels are seen in St Helier today as French fishermen protest post-Brexit changes to fishing in the area
‘He said that any blockade would be completely unjustified. As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two offshore patrol vessels to monitor the situation.
What does the Brexit trade deal say on fishing, and why has the row erupted?
The post-Brexit trade deal sealed between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen before Christmas gave EU fleets transitional rights to UK fishing waters.
That area stretches 200 nautical miles from the coast, or to a maritime halfway point between neighbouring countries.
The EU fishing quota for UK waters was reduced by 15 per cent this year, and will go down another 2.5 percentage points each year until 2026.
From that point the UK will in theory have the right to ban the bloc’s fishing fleets altogether, although there will need to be annual negotiations.
Crucially for the current situation, UK and EU vessels now require a licence to fish in each other’s waters.
And a row has erupted over the specific regulations introduced by the Jersey government to implement the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
They require French boats to demonstrate they have a history of fishing in Jersey’s waters in order to get licences, with Jersey adamant that is what the TCA sets out.
However, the French authorities claim these ‘new technical measures’ for accessing waters off the Channel Islands have not been communicated to the EU. As a result they have been dismissed as ‘null and void’.
There are also disputed allegations that Jersey has been dragging its heels in approving licences for boats that have applied.
‘They agreed the UK and Jersey Governments would continue to work closely on this issue.’
Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said his members have warned they are prepared to ditch their fishing licences if the French win their demands.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘We’ve already told our minister – our licences, some of our fishermen have paid a quarter of a million pounds for our licences – we’re going to get rid of our licences and fish without licences.
‘We just will not put up with those (French) boats being left to fish uncontrolled, unsustainably in our waters, whilst we’re subject to all sorts of constraints.’
Speaking to BBC Newsnight yesterday, Mr Gorst said: ‘We take these threats from both Paris and the French fishermen very seriously. They are disproportionate to the issues that are being experienced in the post-Brexit trade licensing issuing.’
The row began after the island implemented new requirements under the terms of the UK-EU trade deal for boats to submit evidence of their past fishing activities in order to receive a licence to carry on operating in Jersey waters.
Yesterday, Mr Gorst held talks with Marc Lefevre, the president of the La Manche region of northern France, on the ‘difficult set of issues relating to fishing licences’.
‘There are a number of important matters which we will continue to work through,’ he said.
Ms Girardin told the French parliament that it gave Paris the ‘means’ to act against the island if the issue could not be resolved. ‘Even though I am sorry that it has come to this, we will do so if we have to,’ she said.
Mr Gorst, however, said the island is not seeking to bar boats which have historically fished in Jersey waters and insisted the dispute can be resolved amicably.
He said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.
‘The trade deal is clear but I think there has been some confusion about how it needs to be implemented, because we absolutely respect the historic rights of French fishermen to fish in Jersey waters as they have been doing for centuries,’ he said.
‘I do think a solution can be found. I am optimistic that we can provide extra time to allow this evidence to be provided.’