The Spanish embassy is closely following the difficulties faced by Spanish fishing companies in the port of Montevideo, some of which have decided to stop operating in Uruguay.
The issue according to Spanish diplomatic sources in Montevideo could be considered (out of agenda) with Uruguay’s Foreign Affairs minister Luis Almagro who is currently on an official visit to Spain.
Spanish companies complain that their vessels once in Montevideo face the risk of legal seizure or are banned, as a precaution measure, from returning to sea because of alleged huge labour demands presented before Uruguayan courts.
Most cases involve Peruvian crew members, in combination with local solicitors, who demand alleged arrears well over 100.000 US dollars. One of the latest demands against a Spanish fishing company from a single crewmember totals 462.000 US dollars.
Manuel Barros head of a Montevideo maritime agency which services several Spanish fishing companies claims that following “demands against 15 fishing vessels” a group of these companies have decided “to abandon the port of Montevideo”.
Barros said the companies have contacted the Spanish embassy in Montevideo, which is “closely following the situation”.
“We have a close and fluid communication since it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Spanish fishing companies to operate in Montevideo, as they have been doing traditionally”.
Spanish vessels that call in Montevideo fish in international waters and in the South Atlantic, in Falklands/Malvinas, and do most of their landings and re-supplying in Uruguay.
Spanish diplomatic sources in Montevideo said that ‘most probably’ the issue will be brought up with Uruguayan minister Almagro in Madrid.
Alberto Diaz, president of Uruguay’s National Administration of Ports admitted “problems exist” but “it does not depend on us”.
Nevertheless Diaz says that to his best knowledge only one Spanish company has left Montevideo for the south of Brazil option.
Mario Baubeta, head of the maritime agency Tranship and president of the Navigation Centre said that because of the growing difficulties in Montevideo Spanish vessels are opting for high seas transhipments.
Uruguay’s fishing industry workers and seamen union, SUNTMA, is against the Peruvian fishermen demands which they describe as “opportunistic” and quite simple to present.
However this situation would not occur “if the Spanish fishing companies contracted Uruguayan fishermen”, argues Jose Franco, head of SUNTMA.
But the problem is that Spanish companies contract Peruvians because “they pay them miserable salaries, no benefits and so what is happening is the other side of the same medicine”, said Franco.
However the Union as well as Uruguayan maritime agencies believes the solution must come from Parliament, giving magistrates the legal instruments to substitute vessel seizure and sailing bans with bank collateral or international insurance.
A bill which collects these initiatives was presented last year before the Uruguayan parliament, discussed by the different commissions and should face a floor vote sometime in March.
The activities of the different fishing vessel fleets operating in the port of Montevideo are estimated to represent an annual turnover of 200 million US dollars.