THE TRAPPED scallop trawler held in France was finally freed last night.
After being forced to stay in Le Havre for a week, a court ordered the immediate release of the Cornelis Gert Jan and its seven-strong crew.
It was detained last Wednesday for dredging two tonnes of scallops without a licence on French waters.
The Cornelis’s skipper, Irishman Jondy Ward, was charged with illegal fishing – plunging him into a huge cross-Channel political storm.
It is another victory for Boris Johnson after a bitter war of words with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
Yesterday Mr Ward appeared before an appeal court in Rouen, an hour from Le Havre, for a closed hearing.
His legal team argued for the boat to be released and against the mammoth £125,000 bail bond, and won.
Last night Mr Ward’s lawyer Mathieu Croix said: "The court followed our arguments and cancelled the seizure. The boat is free to leave Le Havre immediately without having to pay any bail."
French officials claimed the boat was fishing without a licence. Its owner Macduff Shellfish denies the allegation and has blamed a possible admin error.
Married dad-of-two Mr Ward, from the tiny fishing village of Burtonport, Co Donegal, gave a thumbs-up from his boat after getting the news.
After the hour-long hearing Mr Ward, wearing a smart blue shirt and black trousers, said: “I hope to get home today or at some stage at a later date.
“There should be a decision later today.
“We’re just waiting on the decision now from the judges to see if we are free to go or have to pay bail to get the boat out.
“If it goes right, we will go out of here today. If not, it’ll be tomorrow maybe, it depends.”
He said it has been a “strange” week with the media attention.
Speaking about last Wednesday, he went on: “We were just boarded as standard in the morning. Everything went fine.
"Then they came back around 5pm to say that we’re going to be detained because our boat was not on a European register for licensed vessels, which we had no idea about.
“We had all our documents on the bridge all in order. We have our licence to fish, everything like this. I don’t know if it was a clerical error or what caused it, but we weren’t on the list.”
Asked if that was a mistake by the UK authorities, he said: “I don’t know whether it was by them or what.
“From our side of it, we had everything in order on the bridge. As far as I was concerned we had everything in place to be legal.”
LICENCE TO FISH
He said they were fishing in the Baie de Seine, some 24 miles away from Le Havre.
Mr Ward said he thinks they have been “caught in the middle” of the fishing licences row, but added: “I can’t say too much about it.”
The experienced fisherman has landed himself in hot water across the Channel before – claiming to have once been pelted with stones by angry French trawlermen during the 2014 scallop wars.
Mr Croix added of the court case: “It’s not uncommon for this type of procedure to occur.
“What is uncommon is the size of the bail, which the French administration clearly set to focus minds over the fishing row.
“The action taken by the French authorities has been over the top.
“The bail demanded by the French authorities is excessive as it is €150,000 where as the total value of the produce on board is €5,000 (£4,243).
"And the maximum fine could be €75,000 (£63,656). So we asked if bail was to be made it would be set at a reasonably level.”
Mr Ward still faces a criminal trial in Le Havre next August, charged with “acts of unauthorised sea fishing in French maritime salt waters by a third-party vessel to the European Union”.
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