Fishing related activity is responsible for approximately 70% of all submarine cable damages in European waters, but despite this high percentage prosecutions against fishing vessels that damage submarine cables have always been relatively very low. The low volume of prosecutions has historically been because it was very difficult to identify fishing vessels that may have damaged a submarine cable. This has now changed in recent years with the need for all fishing boats over 15m in length to transmit AIS vessel tracking data, or in the event of a fishing boat’s AIS being illegally disabled by the vessels operator, it has been proven possible to obtain VMS vessel tracking data from the government regulator. This means that submarine cable operators now have the ability to detect and identify fishing vessels that may damage cables by trawling over them. One of the UK’s largest telecommunications operators, and a European Subsea Cable Association member, has just this month settled out of court with the insurer of a fishing vessel that damaged its cable in the Irish Sea on two separate occasions. Although the settlement cannot be disclosed, it is understood to be a significant high six figure sum, representing recovery of winter repair costs. ESCA is also aware of several other cable operators that have similar cable damage claims against fishing vessels in the pipeline. Will this development encourage fishing vessels to stay away from known and charted cables? With the risk of having to pay out large sums of money for cable repairs will insurers be forced to pass on that risk to the fishing industry via a hike in premiums? Will the insurance companies try to reduce the risk to premiums by making the act of fishing over cables uninsurable negligence, or will they mandate the use of KIS-ORCA charts and greater respect for cables on the seabed?

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