Croatia seizes Italian boat days after fishery zone comes into force


An Italian trawler was seized by the Croatian navy in the country's territorial waters Thursday, two days after it implemented a controversial fishing protection zone in the Adriatic Sea. The potential impact of the seizure on EU relations is unknown.

By Natasa Radic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb – 04/01/08


The zone will protect stock, which Croatian fishermen say is being depleted by Italy's larger fishing fleet. [Getty Images]

The Croatian navy seized an Italian fishing vessel that was "illegally present" on Thursday (January 3rd), two days after declaring a protected fishing zone in its territorial waters.

Police spokeswomen Zeljka Radosevic said the trawler crew was fishing near a remote island in Croatian waters and not inside the new Croatian Ecological and Fisheries Protected Zone (ZERP), which extends to the middle of the Adriatic.

Radosevic said the boat was escorted to a port on the island of Vis for investigation. She added that the three crew members would appear before a judge and would probably be fined. It was not immediately clear what impact this incident would have on Croatia's ongoing dispute with Italy and Slovenia over the fishing zone, which the EU has also warned against.

Croatia held general elections in late November. Because the new government has not been formed, the zone was enacted automatically based on laws previously passed.

Diplomats have been unable to make progress on the issue due to the slow pace of forming the new coalition cabinet.

Prime Minister-designate Ivo Sanader has until mid-January to form his government. However, even when that milestone is passed, it will be difficult to de-activate the protected zone, as Sanader's main coalition partner strongly supports it.

Earlier this week, EU Commissioner Olli Rehn reiterated that the zone could hurt Croatia-EU relations. "It is essential that a solution is found to this issue immediately ... Accession negotiations with Croatia are expected to enter a decisive phase in 2008, provided this issue is successfully resolved," Rehn said the day prior to the zone's implementation

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EU members want to have a separate status within the 60 square km zone that will allow them access as before. Official records show that Italian fisheries take 300m euros worth of fish from the zone annually -- ten times what Croatia draws.

Italy and Slovenia -- the two countries most affected by the zone -- have already announced possible harsh reactions. Slovenia, which assumed the rotating EU presidency on Tuesday, has placed the issue high on its agenda.

"The message has always been the same; Croatia should not apply any aspect of the zone to EU members until a common agreement in the EU spirit is found," the Slovenian government said. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said his country has always supported the prompt accession of Croatia to the EU, even when other members expressed doubts.

"Therefore, we legitimately expect that Croatia -- as an EU candidate member -- will act accordingly, as one of the core principles of EU behaviour is keeping one's word," Jansa said, referring to the previous, 2004 agreement signed by Croatia that said EU members would be excluded from the protected fishery zone.

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