MaltaToday | 27 August 2008

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NEWS | Wednesday, 27 August 2008


No action taken by Attorney General over inquiry into the illegal reflagging of fishing boats, that found “false information” was tendered by fishing magnate’s company

The Attorney General’s office has since 16 June been sitting on an inquiry report suggesting serious breaches of local and international law on the part of Hannibal Fishing Ltd – a company 100% owned by Azzopardi Fisheries – but no criminal proceedings have so far been initiated against the company or its proprietors.
The report was forwarded to AG Dr Silvio Camilleri by Transport Minister Austin Gatt on the advice of the board of inquiry itself, which pointed out that “the Ministry should seek the assistance of the Attorney General.”
The inquiry was instigated by allegations of illegal double-registration of fishing vessels in the Grand Harbour, right under the noses of the port authorities.
It seems a European Commission delegation, in Malta on routine business on 22 April, received a phone-call from the Commission requesting information about a suspicious flagging activity being carried out in the Grand Harbour at the time. It is understood that the Commission’s attention was drawn to the incident by international conservation agencies Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, which photographed the entire operation.
The vessels were the Libyan-flagged Manara I and Manara 2, owned by Hannibal Fishing Ltd, and the Abdi Baba I and Cevahir, purchased from Turkey by Hannibal Fishing Ltd, together with French associates, last March.
The purpose of the exercise appears to have been to replace two registered and licensed (but obsolete) tuna fishing vessels with another two modern (but unlicensed) boats. But rather than register the new boats with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), Hannibal Fishing Ltd simply swapped their identities so that the two new boats took the names (and licenses) of the old.
All four vessels are currently impounded in Libya and Malta.
The Board of Inquiry concluded its investigation on 10 June, and the findings were tabled in parliament (and forwarded to the AG) on six days later.
Among the conclusions were the following: “False information was tendered by representatives of Hannibal Fishing Ltd to the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs (MRRA)”; “that Anthony Azzopardi and Charles Azzopardi were economical with the truth (in their interviews with the Board)”; and that “the declarations which were false related to the year of build, engines and dimensions of the ships”.
To put into perspective the seriousness of these allegations, the European Commissioner for Fisheries, Joe Borg, took the controversial decision to close all EU bluefin tuna fisheries two weeks before the end of the season (by coincidence, on 16 June). Borg cited two reasons to justify this extraordinary measure: 1) that the European Union member states had already fished 80% of their total allowable catch; and 2) that fishing irregularities were “rampant” throughout the industry.
False declarations to government authorities in exchange for licenses is also a crime according to Maltese law.
And yet, two months after all the above information, and more, was passed on to the office of the Attorney General, no action has been taken.
Efforts to contact Dr Silvio Camilleri all day yesterday proved futile.

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