Croatia seizes Italian trawler for illegal fishing
By Igor Ilic
ZAGREB (Reuters) - Croatia's navy seized an Italian trawler in Croatian territorial waters on Thursday, in the first such incident since Zagreb enforced a protected fishing zone in the Adriatic despite opposition from the European Union.
"According to my information, a Croatian military ship caught an Italian trawler illegally present in (Croatia's) territorial waters. The trawler has been taken to a port on the (southern Adriatic) island of Vis for an investigation," a Transport and Maritime Ministry official told Reuters.
Croatia said it created the zone -- extending jurisdiction beyond its territorial waters to the midpoint division line in the Adriatic -- to preserve fish stocks and limit pollution.
But the move, based on established international practice, stoked tension with its Adriatic EU neighbors, Italy and Slovenia, which put pressure on Zagreb not to implement the zone before reaching a common agreement.
The official said the trawler was found in territorial waters proper. However, the move could raise tensions between Zagreb and the European Union, which it hopes to join in around 2010.
The European Commission told Croatia its EU accession talks could suffer if Zagreb unilaterally implemented the zone.
Croatia has indicated it might soften the zone's implementation but no steps are expected before Prime Minister Ivo Sanader forms a new coalition government, due in mid-January.
Police spokeswoman Zeljka Radosevic told state radio the trawler had been caught fishing illegally near a remote Croatian island. "Crew members and the commander will be taken before a judge," Radosevic said.
Croatia's Defense Ministry, which is in charge of the naval forces, declined to comment.
Slovenia is opposed to the zone, brought in on January 1, because of an unresolved sea border issue. Analysts say the zone clashed with the interests of Italy's fishermen who can now fish freely without any supervision.
Croatia's fishermen say that Italy's better equipped fishing fleet could deplete fish stocks on the Croatian side of the Adriatic after doing so on its side. They say Italian trawlers often fish illegally in Croatia's territorial waters.
(editing by Elizabeth Piper)