By Christian Lowe
PARIS (Reuters) – France despatched two maritime patrol boats to the waters off the British Channel island of Jersey on Thursday, after Britain deployed two of its naval vessels in an escalating row over post-Brexit fishing rights.
The European Commission called for calm over the dispute, which on Thursday also saw a protest flotilla of about two dozen French trawlers sail to Jersey’s main harbour and demand a meeting with island officials.
The French government was angered when Jersey issued new fishing permits which, according to Paris, impose unfair restrictions on French trawlers’ access to Channel island fishing grounds, a sore point in relations since Britain’s departure from the European Union.
A French minister threatened to cut off electricity supplies to Jersey if the fishing restrictions were not lifted, prompting Britain’s government to express its “unwavering support” for Jersey and send the two naval vessels.
The French navy said on Thursday the two French patrol vessels had been deployed on the orders of the French civil authorities. It did not give details of what they would be doing in the waters off Jersey.
An official from the French presidential administration said the deployment of the French boats “speaks to our concern, and frustration, and is an appeal, which we will also express, for the correct application of agreements,” sealed when Britain left the EU.
The official said the deployment of patrol vessels from both France and Britain was aimed at maintaining order and preventing clashes between trawlers on opposing sides of the row.
Ship-tracking website marinetraffic.com showed one of the two French vessels, Athos, located approximately 20 km south-east of Jersey.
It was at least 20 km away from the two British naval vessels, the HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, which were on the south-western side of the island.
Earlier on Thursday, the flotilla of French trawler vessels had sailed to the Jersey port of St Helier.
At least one of the French trawlers entered the harbour and briefly positioned itself in front of the Commodore Goodwill, a cargo vessel and ferry that connects the Channel islands to the British mainland.
A representative for Jersey port said the ship’s departure had been delayed, but had no further details.
Jersey government officials, who say the new fishing restrictions are in line with post-Brexit trade arrangements, said they would meet representatives of the protesters on Thursday to listen to their concerns.
(Additional reporting by Tangi Salaun and Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)