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“John Cheek” case findings in Buenos Aires

Tuesday, February 28th 2006 - 21:00 UTC
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The inquiry into the incident involving the Falklands' flagged trawler “John Cheek” allegedly illegally fishing in Argentina's EEZ and currently retained in Comodoro Rivadavia, was addressed Tuesday to Buenos Aires.

Once the inquiry including statements from the Captain and 31 crew members from "John Cheek" arrives to the Central command of the Argentine Coast Guard it will be sent to the Argentine Fisheries Department and based on the findings the office will decide whether to impose fines and confiscate the cargo or let the vessel free.

"John Cheek" was carrying 114 tons of hake and squid when boarded by a party from the Coast Guard a week ago, "a couple of miles" inside Argentina's EEZ according to Argentine sources.

The captain of the Falklands vessel Jaime Cortizo has repeatedly insisted he was operating in "international waters" and this was stated in the official inquiry. Following on this first stage, the Argentine Foreign Affairs Ministry which has already notified the British Embassy in Buenos Aires of the incident will have to evaluate if it presents a formal protest to the Foreign Office.

"On Tuesday once the administrative proceedings were finished the inquiry was sent to Buenos Aires and most probably Wednesday morning should be on the desk of the Fisheries Officer", said Eduardo Coutinho head of Coast Guard Operations in Comodoro Rivadavia.

"The next step is for the Fisheries Department to establish the fines and auction the forfeited cargo", said Mr. Coutinho.

Apparently the investigation includes recordings of the dialogue between captain Cortizo and the skipper of the Coast Guard "Fique", showing the "John Cheek" was effectively inside the EEZ, according to Argentine sources.

Last year in three similar incidents involving fishing vessels from Taiwan, South Korean and Spain, fines to the tune of 200.000 US dollars were imposed and cargos auctioned.

Meantime a former senator for the Patagonian province of Chubut Hipolito Solari Irigoyen criticized Spanish fishing companies which have associates on both sides of the South Atlantic ignoring the Argentine sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands.

"Petrel Trawling Limited to which John Cheek belongs is made up of Pescapuerta from Galicia and also Puerto Madryn (Argentina), as well as the Falklands Fortuna company which belongs to powerful Islanders", said Solari Irigoyen. However he admitted that behind these business groups are "politicians" who endorse these kinds of practices.

Solari Irigoyen claims that Pescapuerta and Fortuna jointly operate five vessels of which the "John Cheek" is the largest.

"This is evidence that groups such as Pescapuerta and other Spaniards, which have licences awarded by Argentina, also catch in Malvinas waters with licences extended by colonial authorities that ignore Argentine sovereignty" insisted the former Senator.

"These companies have no qualms, in defense of their economic interests, in contributing to increase existing conflicts between Argentina and the United Kingdom".

Categories: Mercosur.

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