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Vessel seized for carrying contraband fuel was only carrying water and sludge, owners say

Paul and Alexandra Piscopo filed proceedings back in 2013, for the release of their vessel and the 34,600 litres of gasoil it was carrying

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
23 November 2017, 1:30pm
Owners of a fishing boat that had seized on suspicion of fuel smuggling, only to be found to carrying water and sludge, have appealed a court’s decision not to release the seized vessel.

In 2013, Paul and Alexandra Piscopo filed proceedings for the release of the Dimitra and the 34,600 litres of gasoil it was carrying.

The couple, who work in the fishing business argued that the boat was a fishing vessel, which they had just bought from Egypt. When it had arrived in Malta, a surveyor was appointed to examine the state of the sea vessel and informed them that it needed the diesel tanks needed to be repaired.

As they offloaded the diesel onto another boat, in preparation for repairs, the truck carrying the diesel was stopped by customs who seized the fuel, accusing the couple of smuggling it.

In 2017, the First Hall of the Civil Court turned down the Piscopo’s request for the ship’s release, on the grounds that it had been used in a criminal enterprise.

In an appeal filed earlier this week, the couple argued that they had subsequently been cleared of all charges in the separate criminal proceedings.

Even the court expert appointed by the First Hall said that the fuel was being transferred between barges of the same owner and therefore, there could not be contraband, they said.

The amount of diesel on board was grossly miscalculated by the first court, they argue, as court experts also found a considerable amount of sludge in the vessel’s six fuel tanks.

The owners were disallowed from carrying out tests on the contents for months, due to the objections of the Director General of Customs, who was in custody of the vessel.

Eventually, the six tanks were tested and a court-appointed expert found that three of the tanks were actually full of water and the other three were full of sludge, water and “very little diesel. “

If after the sludge was deducted, there was only a minimum amount of fuel in the tanks, the smuggling charge was untenable, the lawyers argued.

The Piscopos asked the Court of Appeal to revoke the sentence of the First Hall and rule that the amount of fuel actually being carried be established by a court appointed expert or, failing that, revoke the sentence and order the release of the vessel.

Lawyers David Camilleri and Joseph Gatt filed the application.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...