Co Down fisherman attacked by French calls for Royal Navy support

Flares light the waters of the Bay of Seine on Tuesday morning during clashes with French fishermen
Flares light the waters of the Bay of Seine on Tuesday morning during clashes with French fishermen

A Co Down skipper caught up in clashes between British and French fishermen over scallops off the Normandy coast has said the Royal Navy should intervene.

Geoffrey Chambers was in the Bay of Seine off the coast of Normandy on Tuesday with his two sons aboard the Golden Shore when it looked like “World War Three broke out” as French vessels surrounded and attacked British fishing boats.

A large Scottish vessel is surrounded by smaller French fishing boats and attacked with flares

A large Scottish vessel is surrounded by smaller French fishing boats and attacked with flares

UK fishermen are entitled to fish for scallops up to 12 miles from the coast, but French fishermen are unhappy with their presence.

A number of fishing vessels operating from Kilkeel fish the waters in the Bay of Seine for scallops during the autumn. The News Letter understands that, in addition to the Golden Shore skippered by Mr Chambers, at least another two local crews had been planning to make their way to the waters off Normandy.

Mr Chambers, a 60-year-old from Annalong, said the British boats were pelted with “stones, metal shackles, bottles of oil” and even shot at with flares.

He explained: “At about four o’clock yesterday (Tuesday) morning, my son was on watch. He called me and said ‘you better come up here quick because World War Three’s broke out’. I asked him what he meant and he said there’s a whole group of French boats had surrounded a couple of the English boats.

The Golden Shore was skippered by Geoffrey Chambers from Annalong on Tuesday

The Golden Shore was skippered by Geoffrey Chambers from Annalong on Tuesday

“There were flares going up. There was shouting on the wireless. The English boats were shouting for help. They were being surrounded and pelted with stones, metal shackles, they were being shot with flares.

“They (the French) were trying to tow ropes through the propellor to try and disable them. They (the English) were actually shouting for help on the wireless. ‘Can somebody come and help us here’, they were shouting.

“They were calling up the French navy who were right beside. They never intervened.”

Mr Chambers continued: “The two wee boats finally got clear, but one of the wheelhouse windows got broke. They were throwing stones at them, bottles, bottles of oil, and shooting flares that could have landed directly in the oil and ignited in the flames.

“They eventually got clear of the French. They were steaming directly at us, so we headed with them in the direction of Brixham.

“The whole group of French boats were coming, sort of chasing, still surrounding the two smaller Brixham boats. The two boats from Brixham were about the same size as us, about 15 metres.

“We could see they (the French) were diverted then towards the bigger boat, the Honeybourne, from Scotland. He also called up for help from the Navy. You could see the boat nearly looked like it was on fire at one stage, with the flares.

“He (the Honeyburn captain) just put the boat in gear, put the throttle down and mowed out through the middle of them. He nearly pushed one of them over the body. If somebody’s trying to set fire to your boat, or a crewman gets hit with a stone or a shackle or a flare...”

Asked what action he would like to see taken, he said: “The British government needs to take action and send one of their naval vessels over to protect, and keep an eye on their own boats.”

Politicians in Northern Ireland have backed the fishermen’s calls for protection from the Royal Navy.

Newry, Mourne and Down councillor Henry Reilly said: “The UK Tory government must immediately act to protect our fishermen on the high seas and must start playing tough with the French and Republic of Ireland to get equal access for our boats.

“Our Prime Minister Mrs May must show some courage and a will to protect our own people against such unprovoked aggression.”

He continued: “The problem with the Royal Navy is that they have these great big aircraft carriers but lack the smaller corvettes. It is important they make that adjustment in light of Brexit.”

DUP MLA Edwin Poots said: “The government must immediately deploy the services of the Royal Navy.”

Asked about the row during her visit to Nigeria, Prime Minister Theresa May told reporters: “I think it’s important we see an amicable solution to what has happened in the Channel. It’s what we want and it’s what France wants.”

A government spokesman said: “The safety of the UK fleet is our highest priority and we will continue to monitor the presence and activities of vessels in the area. We are in contact with industry and the French administration to encourage meaningful dialogue and prevent further incidents.”

Politicians in Northern Ireland have backed the fishermen’s calls for protection from the Royal Navy in light of the attacks from French fishermen.

Newry, Mourne and Down councillor Henry Reilly said: “The UK Tory government must immediately act to protect our fishermen on the high seas and must start playing tough with the French and Republic of Ireland to get equal access for our boats.

“Our Prime Minister Mrs May must show some courage and a will to protect our own people against such unprovoked aggression.”

He continued: “The problem with the Royal Navy is that they have these great big aircraft carriers but lack the smaller corvettes. It is important they make that adjustment in light of Brexit.”

DUP MLA Edwin Poots said: “The government must immediately deploy the services of the Royal Navy.”