Fishing vessel’s detention ‘not a breach of human rights’ says court

Itallian captain’s arrest on suspicion of irregularities in his sailing licence and catch declarations had been justified because at no point had the crew’s freedom been affected.

A court has found no human rights breaches by the Maltese authorities vis a vis the captain and crew of an Italian fishing vessel which had been detained last year, after an inspection found that they had under-declared their catch.

In December 2015, the Italian-flagged fishing vessel Mariella had been fishing in Maltese waters. The vessel’s electronic logbook had been deleted and a provisional fishing permit had been issued, valid till the 29th January 2016.

As part of the paperwork for the Mariella’s port call in Malta for minor repairs, the captain declared that he had 1000kg of swordfish and fishing bait. However, an inspection by the Fisheries Department found discrepancies and confiscated the catch, on the specific instructions of the Director of the Fisheries Department.

The catch was sold at the fishmarket the next day, also on the Director’s instructions.

The captain filed Constitutional proceedings, claiming that the detention of the vessel was an illegal arrest, a breach of their fundamental right to peaceful enjoyment of their possession and amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Less than a week after filing the Constitutional case, Captain Angelo Miraglia was arrested and charged with a number of offences, before being released on bail.

In his decision in the Constitutional case Mr. Justice Joseph. R. Micallef, presiding the First Hall of the Civil Court, rejected the Italian’s arguments. He pointed out that the case had been heard with the greatest possible haste over the Christmas holiday period. Neither could the vessel, as a thing, claim that its fundamental human rights had been breached, the court held, explaining that these rights pertained only to physical persons.

Those persons, both legal and physical, involved in the management and operation of the vessel and had been affected by the actions of the defendant should file a human rights action in their own name and not in the name of the vessel.

With regards to the alleged breach of the crew’s right against arbitrary detention, the Court held that it could not be said that the crew had ever been in an actual state of arrest. Their position must be evaluated separately from that of the vessel and, as there had been no restriction on or surveillance of the crew’s movements or communication.

Captain Miraglia’s arrest on suspicion of irregularities in his sailing licence and catch declarations had been justified because at no point had the crew’s freedom been affected.

He had argued that the uncertainty surrounding the future of the men’s livelihoods – allegedly due to the dearth of information they had been given by the authorities – amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment. This argument did not convince Mr. Justice Micallef, however.

“By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that the plaintiffs had been treated inhumanely or degradingly. Much less that their treatment amounted to torture. Neither has it emerged that they had been kept in the dark about the Department’s investigations into the irregularities on board their vessel.

The Italian embassy had immediately taken action to ensure that proceedings were expedited and that their citizens wanted for nothing.