Jamaica fishing row heats up

Jamaican officials rejected accusations
their coast guard used excessive force trying to stop a Honduran fishing boat
in lobster- and conch-rich waters, fatally shooting the captain and wounding
two crew members.

Honduras’ navy commander, Rear Adm.
Juan Pablo Rodriguez, charged that fishermen from the Central American nation
were unjustifiably attacked by the Jamaican military on Friday night.

Jamaica’s security minister, Dwight
Nelson, disputed that claim in a radio interview. He said coast guard officers
were justified when they shot “disabling fire” at the engine room of
the fishing ship, which he said appeared to be on course to ram the smaller
patrol boat in Jamaican waters.

“We would reject any notion
that unusual force was used in this situation,” Nelson said. “We are
not conceding that we did anything wrong at all.”

Honduran Deputy Foreign Minister
Mireya Aguero said officials from the two countries expected to meet in Miami
in coming days to try to resolve the dispute.

But Aguero also said Honduras’
government intended to take the matter to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the
Sea, and she complained that Jamaican authorities had not acknowledged the
fatal shooting of the Honduran fishing captain.

Nelson said the coast guard patrol
spotted the Honduran fishing ship near the Pedro Cays, a remote area off
Jamaica’s southern coast that has long attracted shellfish poachers and drug
smugglers in speedboats.

He said the vessel fled at full
speed when the Jamaican boat approached and the coast guard patrol gave chase
as the fishermen ignored repeated orders to stop. A warning shot was fired
across the bow, Nelson said.

When the Honduran ship with about
100 people aboard appeared to be trying to ram the patrol boat, officers were
forced to shoot at the engine room, Nelson said.

“There were no shots coming
from the Honduran vessel,” he said, adding that Jamaica must act aggressively
to prevent illegal poaching in its waters.

It was an attack in which the
Jamaican military used excessive force,” Rodriguez told reporters in the
Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. “If it were a case of illegal fishing, we
consider that force was employed excessively because the Hondurans were
unarmed.”

The shooting was the latest
flare-up between Jamaican marine patrols and Honduran fishing crews around the
Pedro Cays. In recent years, Jamaican authorities have arrested or given chase
to numerous Honduran boats in the shallow waters about 60 miles southwest of
the Caribbean island’s seaside capital, Kingston.

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