MaltaToday | 1 June 2008 | Fisheries director queries ‘fishy’ Azzopardi flags

NEWS | Sunday, 1 June 2008

Fisheries director queries ‘fishy’ Azzopardi flags

Raphael Vassallo

Anthony Gruppetta, director-general of Veterinary Regulation, Fisheries Conservation and Control, wrote to Malta Shipping Registrar Lino Vassallo to warn against two suspect fishing vessels owned by Azzopardi Fisheries Ltd, after Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund reported their illegal registration to the European Commission.
In a letter dated 16 May – three days before Transport Ministry Austin Gatt ordered an independent inquiry into the illegal re-flagging allegations – FCC principal scientific officer Alfred Fenech Farrugia, writing on behalf of Dr Gruppetta, drew Mr Vassallo’s attention to the two vessels provisionally registered on the Malta Shipping Registry on 14 May.
“It appears that documents submitted do not match the vessels carrying the names involved,” Dr Fenech Farrugia wrote. “Please note that the vessels are not to be accepted as fishing vessels under the Maltese flag and that the situation is clarified.”
MaltaToday can confirm that the two vessels in question are the Manara I and Manara II, owned by AJD Tuna Ltd in partnership with Libyan company Manarat As-Sahil. Both are Libyan flagged tuna purse-seiner vessels, registered to fish for bluefin tuna by the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) under registration numbers ST1220 and ST 1221.
However, these boats were reflagged as Maltese and renamed MVF Sharone and MVF Gaia I, after two other workboats of those names owned by Azzopardi Fisheries. Workboats are included in a special category of the Malta Fishing Vessel Register (MFD), and although technically classed as fishing vessels, they are not permitted to carry fishing gear.
According to WWF, the reason for this change of identity was that Manara I and Manara II had already been replaced by two new (unlicensed) purse-seiner vessels, brought to Malta from Turkey in April. These two impostor vessels allegedly assumed the identity of the two ICCAT-registered purse-seiners, complete with Libyan flag, but were impounded by Libyan authorities in the port of Al Khumms.
The two re-flagging exercises involved – first of the two Turkish-bought vessels, and subsequently of the Manara I and Manara II – were monitored by Greenpeace and WWF, and reported to ICCAT and the European Commission. This newspaper is informed that the Transport Ministry ordered an inquiry after a request for information was made by EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Rural Affairs, Resources and Agriculture told this newspaper that as a result of Dr Gruppetta’s action the suspect vessels have been declassified.
“In view of the placing of the wrong declarations, the correspondence made it clear that Malta Fishing Vessel Register was not going to accept these vessels as fishing vessels,” the ministry spokesman said. “Furthermore, the director-general, ministry officials, and all the officers of the Veterinary Regulation, Fisheries Conservation and Control that were in any way involved or informed about this case, have made themselves available, by giving evidence and submitting all documents concerning the case to the investigation team authorized by the Infrastructure, Communications and Transport Ministry.”

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