Norwegian Supreme Court bans Latvian trawler from crabbing in Svalbard

The Supreme Court of Norway has ruled against the Latvian trawler Senator and banned it from crabbing in Svalbard, the ship’s owner Pēteris Pildegovičs told LETA.

According to Pildegovičs, the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled snow crabs to be a sedentary species, meaning it can be considered a resource of the continental shelf, just like oil and gas. Any other interpretation would also raise questions concerning these natural resources. Had the Norwegian court ruled that snow crabs are a migratory species the arrested Senator would be free to resume crabbing.

The Norwegian Supreme Court’s ruling on another issue – whether and to what degree Norwegian laws are discriminatory towards foreign crabbers – was also unfavorable, Pildegovičs said. “The court does not recognize that the state has been acting in a discriminatory manner by refusing a crabbing license and not allowing us to catch snow crabs even though we had applied to the Norwegian authorities for the license,” Pildegovičs said.

“This time the ruling of the Norwegian Supreme Court is political and in the interests of the Norwegian state,” the owner of the Senator concluded.

Pildegovičs said the Norwegian Supreme Court’s unfavorable decision would not stop him and vow to do everything to get the dispute over crabbing rights heard in an international court.

“The Latvian state must take more specific steps to defend the interests of its entrepreneurs in foreign countries,” Pildegovičs said.

Pildegovičs said that for the time being the Senator would be idle standing off the Norwegian coast. The vessel could be put into operation if its owner North Star LTD paid a guarantee deposit equal to the fine imposed by the Norwegian authorities, but since the vessel has been specially rebuilt and upgraded for crabbing it cannot be used for other purposes. Also, the exact amount the owner is now required to pay in fine and court fees to Norway has yet to be determined.

The Latvian government will discuss the Norwegian Supreme Court’s ruling in the Latvian snow crabber case and Latvia’s further steps in this situation at one its forthcoming sittings, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs’ (New Unity) advisor Martins Dregeris told LETA.

He said that the Latvian side would go through the reasoning behind the Norwegian court’s verdict.

The date for the government meeting at which the issue could be addressed has yet to be set, because first it is necessary to study the verdict and carry out legal analysis, the foreign minister’s adviser said.

A Latvian crab trawler, the Senator, was arrested on January 16, 2017, for fishing snow crab in Norwegian waters around the Svalbard (Spitzbergen) archipelago. The Norwegians insist that the Latvian vessel had been fishing there illegally while Latvia maintains the fishermen had been acting in compliance with international agreements and an EU regulation about the fishing rights in Svalbard.

After the incident the Latvian Foreign Ministry presented a note to the Norwegian Embassy in Riga, asking to release the Latvian crab trawler and not to interfere with crab fishing which has been taking place in accordance with international agreements.

Norwegian Ambassador to Latvia Steinar Egil Hagen earlier insisted that Norway had the authority to issue licenses for crabbing on its continental shelf, and the EU and Latvia could not get such licenses without Norway's consent.

However the crab ships aren't just part of an inter-government dispute. Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet released a series of reports alleging awful working conditions aboard vessels run by Latvian and Russian crab-fishing companies operating in the Norwegian port of Båtsfjord.

The Dagbladet story can be read in English at the newspaper's site and outlined questionable contracts for fishermen and poor working conditions particularly involving employees from Indonesia aboard Latvian and Russian vessels.

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