French fishermen extend port blockades to vital fuel depots
Three fuel depots which service much of west-central France have been sealed off on Sunday night by fishermen furious at spiralling fuel costs.19 May 2008
LA ROCHELLE - French fishermen furious at spiralling fuel costs stepped up a blockade of Atlantic ports on Sunday night, sealing off three fuel depots which service much of west-central France.
The action, which protesters said will last through until talks with the government scheduled for Wednesday, came despite a statement from Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier indicating that a renegotiated cash rescue package was being prepared.
At the country's eighth-largest port of La Rochelle, a cordon of 90 fishing boats sealed off access to the commercial harbour La Pallice for a fourth day running, although traffic was allowed in and out for three hours a day.
Come the evening, though, fishermen then blocked access to all three fuel depots at La Pallice, with one of the protesters' leaders, Pascal Guenezan, telling AFP that "not one truck will be able to get in or out of the depots until Wednesday".
Some 40 fishermen had blocked three access roads with barricades made out of wooden palettes, Guenezan said, adding that he and his colleagues were going to "spend the night" guarding these access points awaiting reinforcements.
The depots service hundreds of lorries each day, providing fuel for west-central France's filling stations and supermarkets.
The action came despite Barnier saying on Sunday that his ministry was sensitive to the fishermen’s' concerns, and promising to "mobilise" on their behalf.
He said the government is "conscious of the new and particularly difficult context due to the accelerated increases in the (price of) fuel".
Barnier said he was talking to industry figures and spoke of the "eventual adaptation" of the last rescue package agreed at the turn of the year, saying a 15-point plan could be adjusted to address today's market conditions.
On Monday, the agriculture minister will be in Brussels for a meeting with European Union counterparts where he will seek bloc-wide approval for a package of measures addressing some of the fishermen’s' demands.
The fishermen want concrete assistance from President Nicolas Sarkozy's government to help them cope with a sharp increase in the price of diesel fuel that has reached EUR 0.79 per litre, up from EUR 0.40 in November.
The government announced a three-year EUR 310 million (USD 480 million) aid package to help cushion the blow from fuel costs after several French ports were blocked during protest action in November.
But the fishermen now say the rescue package is not enough, given the continued rise in fuel costs, which they say currently swallow up half the turnover of the average fishing boat.
Union leaders are calling for the introduction of minimum wholesale prices for fish to help them make ends meet.
La Rochelle's historic port and the Minimes marina, used by hundreds of pleasure craft, were also cordoned off to boats, as fishermen rallied support for their campaign at the Sunday market.
Boats were again prevented from mooring at the Sables-d'Olonne farther up the western seaboard, where the protest movement broke out on 10 May, as well as the pleasure port in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.
The protest had spread Saturday to several new west coast harbours, La Turballe, Le Croisic, and the nearby island of Yeu.
Many other ports around the country were awaiting the outcome of Wednesday's talks to decide on possible protest action, said Pascal Leclerc, head of the fisheries committee in the Breton port of Saint-Malo.
[AFP / Expatica]