Jersey: Royal Navy warships see off blockade and send 56-strong fleet of French fishing boats packing

TWO Royal Navy warships saw off a blockade of Jersey — sending packing a 56-strong flotilla of furious French fishermen.

HMS Tamar and HMS Severn kept the peace after being sent by the PM. France had threatened to cut off supplies in a licence row.

Read our Jersey stand-off live blog for the very latest updates

Relieved islanders saluted the Royal Navy for seeing off the French fishing boats.

Local dad-of-two Alex Pacheco, 59, said: “Hooray for the Royal Navy. They came and kicked their ass.

“It’s great to see the French sloping off with their tails between their legs.”

Local fisherman Josh Dearing, 28, added his thanks too, explaining: “We’re completely unprotected in Jersey. We’ve got nothing except for a few police officers.”

He said the French show of force at the port of St Helier yesterday morning was “like an invasion”.

Josh added: “The French can be hostile. All of our livelihoods are in that harbour and if they wanted to they could cause damage.”

The Navy ships patrolled the waters after France threatened to “bring Jersey to its knees” by cutting off supplies and even power.

French fishermen are in a bitter Brexit row over access to British fishing waters and threatened to “restage the Battle of Trafalgar”.

But their 56-strong flotilla was no match for the 2,000-ton warships.

The gunboats dwarfed them and the 42-year-old, 100-ton French Navy boat sent to monitor the growing tensions as the spat over fishing licences threatened to boil over.

The trawlermen retreated — ­clearing the way for other vessels to bring supplies to the island’s only harbour.

And last night HMS Tamar and HMS Severn were ordered home.

A Government spokesman declared: “We are pleased that French fishing boats have now left the vicinity of Jersey.

“Given the situation is resolved for now, the Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessels will prepare to return to port in the UK. We remain on standby to provide any further assistance Jersey requests.”

Boris Johnson had dispatched the Navy late on Wednesday after receiving intelligence warnings the French boats were coming.

The PM offered his “unequivocal support for Jersey” after speaking to the island’s authorities as the row escalated.

He warned that “any blockade would be completely unjustified”. Supermarket bosses on the island had warned of food shortages if the blockade was not broken.

The flotilla descended on the harbour at dawn — letting off flares and blocking Jersey boatmen from sailing out.

But local fisherman Kevin Singleton got one over on the French by setting sail at 3am — two hours before they arrived.

Kevin, 31, managed to get in a full morning at sea before slipping back in between the French boats to unload his 200kg catch of scallops, crabs and lobsters. He said: “I’d heard about the French coming. I thought I’m not going to let them beat me so got up extra early.”

The flotilla descended on the harbour at dawn — letting off flares and blocking Jersey boatmen from sailing out.

The French were stirred up by David Sellam, the sabre-rattling head of Normandy's port authority, who warned “we’re ready for war. We can bring Jersey to its knees”.

The British ships were armed with 20mm and 30mm cannon, which can fire 700 rounds a minute at a range of 1,300 yards. France’s President Macron hit back and sent two French Navy patrol boats — despite one being less than half the size of each Royal Navy vessel.

Just after 1pm the French ­trawlers started to retreat but crews warned “next time will be war”.

They went home “angry and disappointed” after talks with officials in Jersey and called on the French Government to carry out their threats of “retaliatory measures”.

Jean-Claude La Vaullée, skipper of Le Cach, said: “I’ve refuelled the boat — we’re ready to restage the Battle of Trafalgar.” Last night Brussels stirred the row by taking the fishermen's side.

The EU said Jersey’s authorities were imposing “additional conditions” on French fishing boats operating there, in breach of the terms of the Brexit divorce agreement hammered out late last year.

Marc Delahaye, of the Committee of Normandy Fisheries, said: “We’ve made our feelings known. Now it is for Paris and Brussels to sort out.

“The French trawlers will not return to Jersey on Friday but things may change unless the matter is resolved.” Jersey’s assistant environment minister, Deputy Gregory Guida, led 90 minutes of talks with the French fishermen’s representatives yesterday.

He said: “Jersey should be bracing itself for more trouble. We’ll do our best but I think it will get worse before it gets better.”

A Government spokesman said: “Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement. We support them in exercising those rights.”

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