French marines open fire to protect trawlers –

French marines open fire to protect trawlers Published:  12 October, 2009

Hervé Morin

The threat to European fishing fleets in the Indian Ocean took a dramatic new turn at the weekend when French naval marines opened fire to protect two tuna fishing vessels.

A spokesman for the French defence department said the operation took place at dawn some 200 miles from the Seychelles. It was the first time the French had repelled an attack since a plan was put in place in July for the military to protect boats in the region from Somali pirates.

Last week Spain’s defence department ruled out placing armed soldiers on their Indian Ocean tuna fishing fleet after a Spanish trawler and its crew were seized by pirates. Spain said it was illegal to use the military to protect what in effect was private property.

But it seems France has no such qualms and its soldiers opened fire on two small launches that were trying to approach the vessels bearing the French ensign. No one was injured on the tuna ships, which are based at Concarneau, in southern Brittany.

French defence minister Herve Morin said on on Saturday the presence of the marines aboard trawlers ‘is planned to continue throughout the fishing season to ensure as much security as possible to fishermen.’ He added: ‘There were shots and they lasted half an hour.’

Both France and Spain have several trawlers operating in the Indian Ocean. European fleets have said Somali pirates, which have made millions of dollars from ransoms, are threatening a fishing industry worth up to $6 billion annually across the region.