Thursday, February 26th 2004 - 21:00 UTC

Maya V Crew Out Of Jail

Families of 25 fishermen temporarily stuck in Hakea Prison Farm were celebrating in Uruguay last night as news of their release reached home.

The men, all crew of the fishing boat Maya V which was allegedly caught taking Patagonian toothfish inside Australian waters on January 23 this year, had been stuck in the prison for 24 days unable to make bail.

Concern for the men's plight had sparked members of the Uruguayan Consulate to fly to Perth to assist families getting information from the men while lawyers argued for diminished bail surety on illegal fishing charges.

The consulate said last night that it was 'very happy' to see all of the 35 crew out of a high security prison, 5 days after lawyer for the crew Phillip Laskaris argued successfully that a bail of $AUD 5000 each for the 35 men, set on February 12, needed to be reduced.

Ten of the men met reduced bail of $AUD 2000 last Friday.

"We've been keeping the families informed as best we can, taking calls and trying to make sure they find things about before they hear them in the media," Consulate representative Victoria Francolino said in Perth.

"Yes, we are very happy that they are out," she said.

Uruguayan Ambassador to Australia Pedro Mo Amaro, who informed his Ministry of Foreign Affairs last night of the news, said that while his Government supported tough action on illegal fishing, it had been concerned about the welfare of the crew.

"We agree with all the measures Australian authorities have taken but not with these measures against the crew," Mr Mo Amaro said. "We think the crew is innocent - they have not committed any offences," he said.

The Maya V crew is the first crew of any illegal Patagonian toothfishing vessel to be charged, with officers, senior crew and recidivists only previously facing charges.

The men's lawyer had stated during bail hearings that it appeared the temporary incarceration through high bail was a backhanded way for the Australian Government to send a warning message to other fishing crews internationally.

This was swiftly refuted by the Commonwealth, who insists the crew proved a real 'flight risk'.

By Peter Collins - Perth

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