Two men granted bail over illegal fishing

Fisherman and boat owner are granted bail after undersized swordfish and illegally caught tuna found onboard vessel by authorities

Two men who work in the fishing industry were today granted bail after pleading not guilty to charges of illegal fishing and conspiring to commit criminal offences on a fishing boat.

Fisherman Sammy Vella, 34, from Marsaxlokk, was charged with catching and selling undersized swordfish, filing false declarations and failing to notify the port authorities of his return.

Former Valletta footballer Darren Debono, who at the time of the incident was not on the boat, was charged with conspiring with Vella and unloading illegally caught tuna.

The 40 year old, from San Ġwann, is the registered owner of the fishing vessel and also runs a fish restaurant.

The police were informed of the case, when officers from the fishing authorities noted that fishing vessel Marie de Lourdes II had returned to port without notification.

Regulations state that fishing boats are to inform port authorities of their return, four hours prior to their arrival.

Once at shore, the accused started unloading their catch which included tuna. Officers from the Fisheries Department called on site and the police were informed.

The accused argued they had been fishing for swordfish and the tuna was part of the by-catch. However, swordfish tackle was found onboard and the fisheries officials rebutted that the amount of tuna found on the boat was over the by-catch percentage allowed at law.

Magistrate Miriam Hayman granted bail to the accused against a deposit of €3,000 and a personal guarantee of €15,000 each.

At the end of the sitting, Debono’s defence counsel informed the court that the accused had a scheduled business flight to Libya on Saturday morning.

The Court asked the prosecuting inspector for his views about the request. Inspector Jurgen Vella was about to say he had no objections to Debono’s request but then told the magistrate he would abide by any decision she takes.

“I want to know what you think and what you were about to say”, Magistrate Hayman told the inspector. He then confirmed that there was no fear of Debono absconding from the country.

Defence lawyer Gianella de Marco, informed the court that Debono resides in Malta, had his wife and children on the island and also owns a number of businesses locally.

After retiring to her chambers, to ponder the request, Magistrate granted Debono permission to go on his business trip and return Monday.

The defence lawyers of Sammy Vella called on the court to allow the fisherman to keep his identify card and passport.

“Such documents are to be kept on board if Vella carries out fishing outside territorial waters. Seizing his documents effectively precludes him from carrying out any form of serious and profitable fishing. He cannot earn his living by fishing only in territorial waters”, lawyer Michael Sciriha said.

However the court turned down the request, and threatened the lawyer with finding him in contempt of court if he argued the decision. “I am definitely not changing my decree”, Magistrate Hayman said.

Police Inspector Jurgen Vella prosecuted while lawyers Michael and Lucio Sciriha and Giannella de Marco appeared for the accused.