Letters: 7 February 2015

Mabel Strickland
Mabel Strickland

Lampara fishing fleet’s landings all inspected

Reference is being made to a series of articles which appeared in the past weeks on the Fisheries sector, including an interview with Martin Caruana, published on Sunday, 3 January 2016 ‘Fishing in troubled waters’, and the article ‘inflated fish landings spark smuggling front fears’, penned by Jurgen Balzan on 25 January, 2016. 

The subject of fisheries needs to be looked at from a much wider angle, taking into account the context of the global phenomenon of overfishing, and this is particularly felt in the Mediterranean where production has been in decline for a number of years. Some have even gone so far as dubbing it the “dead Med”, so it is not surprising that fishermen may be finding fewer fish to catch. In fact all management measures at local, EU and international level are aimed at achieving a sustainable level of exploitation of those fish stocks on which communities are dependent upon without affecting their ability to reproduce. 

The problems being anticipated by Maltese fishermen have already been a reality for many in other countries where entire fish stocks have collapsed, situations which have required drastic measures in order to re-establish sustainable exploitation. With this background in mind one appreciates why much attention is given to the control and enforcement of often complex regulations. In this regard one cannot reduce a complex legislative instrument, such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to quoting a part of the 19th recital but should, as a minimum, refer to its five objectives, which have much deeper ramifications. For further reading one may visit the following website: http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/index_en.htm 

With regard to the vessels fishing within the waters under Malta’s jurisdiction, a fishing effort regime measured by the capacity of vessels operating within the area is in force with specific access rules. The general rule is for only fishing vessels under 12m to be allowed to fish and these are recognised internationally as being the small scale nature.

However, for certain fisheries like longlines, lampuki and trawling, vessels over 12m may be authorised whilst respecting the fishing effort regime. From information given by fishermen themselves, trawling inside the 25nm zone had been ongoing for years before EU accession. In late 2013 management plans for the trawlers, lampara and lampuki fisheries were introduced as required by the Mediterranean Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) 1967/2006). Overall the trawling fleet operating within the 25nm zone has to date had its capacity reduced by about 30% over that utilised in 2011. 

With reference to enforcement the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture categorically denies that this is lax. It also transpires that Mr Caruana has not lodged any of the reports mentioned in the article with the department. The specific incident referred to in the article concerns a Togo (not Tobago) flagged vessel which is Maltese owned and which was being investigated by the department, with the assistance of the Armed Forces of Malta and after the relevant information was received, the department ascertained that this was a supply vessel with no dealings in the fish trade. 

Moreover a vessel cannot be presumed to be involved in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing because it is anchored, but it has to infringe one of several criteria laid down by the IUU Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) 1005/2008). When the Department does find proof of IUU fishing it takes matters very seriously as it has done on a number of occasions. 

The case of the Italian trawler which was fishing without lights near the Maltese coasts actually refers to a vessel with the name of “LEONE” which was caught fishing off the coast of Gozo by the Armed Forces of Malta. The vessel was immediately routed to port where the fish onboard was seized by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the vessel held in port. The master of the vessel was arraigned and found guilty on admission with a fine of €20,000 being handed down by the Court together with the confiscation of the fishery products which had been seized. 

With reference to recreational fishing, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has also taken the necessary steps where illegal fishing was reported, with a number of court cases having been instituted. Moreover the alleged use of nets by recreational fishing boats mentioned in the article is an illegal practice and should be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Police or the Armed Forces of Malta.  

Regarding the lampara fishery, monitoring and controls are in place. For instance one should note that through a management plan, all vessels have been installed with a vessel monitoring system which allows the monitoring of the 24-hour movement of these vessels by the Fisheries Monitoring Centre of the Department. Any vessel that intends to leave or enter port must hail in or out, which means that the department is alerted of a vessel’s movements inside and outside the port. 

Once a lampara vessel enters back into port after a fishing trip the department carries out an inspection which includes a check of the entries in the catch logbook and mesh size of the net. Any landings of the catch on board are recorded and cross checked with the data that is contained in the logbook. In 2014, the lampara fishing fleet made 201 landings which were all inspected. Any information of suspicious activity, even if not related to fisheries, is passed on to the relevant authorities for further action. 

Dr Andreina Fenech Farrugia

Director General, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture

Strickland Foundation’s abuse of our rights

I write regarding your article “Strickland heirs charge newspaper foundation with ‘constant harassment’” (January 31, 2016) to correct some inaccuracies.

I am not a “pretender” to my aunt Mabel Strickland’s (pictured) inheritance but her sole heir whom she chose in 1975 when, in that early will, she left her entire estate to me, subject to the provision for part of her shareholding in Allied Newspapers Ltd to go into a trust, until I obtained Maltese nationality.

The reason for this trust was to plan for the proposed Foreign Interference Act’s provisions, later enacted and then repealed, when my spinster aunt tried to adopt me to help confirm my Maltese ancestry. In her 1975 will, she sought to protect her lifelong work by sheltering some of her shares in the event that she died before I obtained Maltese nationality. Mabel’s 1976 letter to me, which you have quoted, confirmed her clear intentions.

I am now a Maltese citizen. It was clearly not my aunt’s wishes to leave control of her family company to two extraneous families. Her heir was not only a close family member (and her would-be adopted son) but a trusted person who shared her values. This letter states that she wanted me, alone, to continue on her family businesses where ironically she states that “the Executors would be the last people to interfere with you”.

Yet, the Executors and the Strickland Foundation have consistently blocked my appointment to the foundation and the board of the newspaper group for 28 long years.

During 1977 and 1978 I lived in Malta with my aunt at her villa. In 1978 political pressure was brought to bear on her and I was expelled from Malta. The following year, our newspaper offices were ransacked. From that time until 1987, when there was a change of government, I was not allowed to come to Malta. By the time I could return, my aunt was senile. 

During my absence, in 1979 my aunt was persuaded by her lawyer, Guido de Marco, to draft a new will (on his own admission), and change the trust into the Strickland Foundation, stating in its constitution that it was set up “for herself and her heirs in perpetuity”. I knew nothing of this altered will until her secret will was opened after her death.

Dr de Marco and Prof. Joseph Ganado were named by Mabel as executors whilst also foundation trustees. Mabel’s legal files concerning the altered will and the setting up of the foundation have been withheld from me for 28 years. Without them, there can be no equality of arms in our court case. The final will is confused, with only a handful of personal letters to give insights to her real wishes, as opposed to the executor’s interpretation of her will.

Your article refers to a legacy of the villa to the foundation, with her heir having the right to live there. It is unlikely that my aunt understood the “use and habitation” right was merely for life, since no mention was made of this restriction in her will or discussed with me. I alone have the right to live at the villa, yet the foundation has assumed that its rights prevail over my right to live privately in a home where only I should have the front door key.

Their frequent uninvited incursions into our home, abuse our human rights. There is no suggestion, anywhere in the will, of any co-existence with the foundation, especially when Mabel made specific provision in her rules that whilst, nominally, the seat of the foundation was the Villa, she stated emphatically that it “could transfer the seat to any other place in Malta”.

The foundation fails to make this publicly known.

Regarding the controlling 78% shareholding in the newspaper group, Mabel’s legacy to the foundation is contradictory as to the size of the legacy and also how such shares could be transferred to the foundation, as they are barred by law and by the articles of Allied from being a shareholder. Hence, my request to return these shares, wrongfully transferred, in 2010, without my permission, to the estate of my aunt until such time as the courts consider to whom they rightfully belong.

Your article was incorrect regarding the family’s living arrangements at the villa. My aunt’s manuscript will states “the guests rooms, bathrooms and study” (note the plurals). Mabel wanted me to live in her home, meaning the whole villa except the office, where she had sought, and got, my permission to allow the then trust to use for six meetings annually. The executors have been trying to limit the family’s use to a single bedroom and bathroom, which is risible. The executors base their interpretation on a missing “s” in the notarial transcript of Mabel’s original handwritten will. It is fatuous and insulting to suggest that Mabel seriously thought her heir, family and their guests only use one bedroom and one bathroom.

The executors have a fiduciary duty under Maltese law, to act on behalf of the heir as a bonus pater familias, but because of their manifest conflicts of interest, they appear to have competed with me for the bulk of the estate. Nowhere was this clearer than when they saw their own two sons appointed to the Strickland Foundation in 2009, in preference to Mabel’s chosen heir. I have a legitimate expectation to be involved in my family’s business as heir; any Maltese family will understand this.

Although Dr Max Ganado recently resigned from the foundation and Prof. Ganado resigned as an executor, between them they are still refusing to pass over all the executors’ files to the heir. Dr Guido de Marco died in 2010 but Dr Mario de Marco continues to sit on the foundation. The foundation does not publish its accounts.

The newspaper group that this foundation now questionably controls, has even printed an article containing false statements about our legal case. With this misleading information, the editor then refused to allow me the right to reply, on the basis that the matter is before the courts, when, curiously their own inaccurate article was allowed to be published.

Robert Hornyold Strickland