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Striking French fishermen have escalated their protest at soaring fuel costs

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Striking French fishermen have escalated their protest at soaring fuel costs

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They took their dispute into the busiest shipping lane in the world. Line astern, they sailed out of Boulogne harbour at a crawl, disrupting traffic in the Dover Strait.

The fishermen say they will go bust unless they get big discounts on marine diesel. It currently costs 80 cents a litre; the fishermen want to pay 40 cents. Some of them blockaded the Total oil refinery at Dunkerque to highlight their demands.

French Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier has promised to do what he can, and vowed not to abandon the crews. But Paris doesn’t have much room for manoeuvre; Brussels has warned that direct state aid to the fishermen could flout EU regulations.

The dispute is starting to spread. Belgian crews here in Zeebrugge staged their own fuel protest, and fishermen in Spain and Portugal are also grumbling. Spanish crews have threatened a nationwide strike next month unless the government in Madrid comes up with some answers.