PARIS, May 24 (Reuters) - Splits appeared in a long-running French fishermen’s protest on Saturday, with some fishing fleets suspending their campaign against rising fuel costs while others voted to continue blockading ports and oil depots.
The price of marine diesel has surged by 30 percent in the past four months and trawler owners say they will go bust unless the government subsidies their diesel.
Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, who last week offered 110 million euros ($173 million) in aid, subject to European Union approval, said on Saturday he would discuss the crisis with other EU ministers at a meeting on Monday.
Pending further talks, the fishermen who started the protest on May 10 in the Atlantic port of Sables d‘Olonne decided to return to sea, but warned they would resume their strike in June if they failed to secure more concessions.
Soon afterwards, fishermen on the nearby Ile d‘Oleron also voted to lift their blockade and put to sea.
“Sables d‘Olonne ... started the protest and they are the ones who are leading the return to work,” said Nicolas Masse, a trawler owner on the Ile d‘Oleron.
Other fishermen, including in the Brittany ports of Le Guilvinec, Lorient and Saint-Malo, decided to continue their protests at least until Monday, expressing hope that trawlers in other EU countries would join the dispute.
“We need to get (subsidised) marine fuel from Brussels. If France is alone, it will be mission impossible. We need a common front with other countries,” said Pascal Lecler, head of a local fishing committee in Saint-Malo.
The dispute has paralysed many ports and fuel depots in France and led to petrol shortages in the south of the country after road and sea routes to some refineries were blocked.
Ferry traffic between Britain and France was also hit, with the straits of Dover, one of the busiest seaways in the world, snarled on Friday.
The fishermen are demanding discounted diesel at 40 euro cents ($0.60) per litre, half the 80 euro cents they pay now. A direct subsidy would be illegal under EU law and Barnier is trying to find a way around the rules.
“The French government will seek solutions with the main European countries concerned and the European Commission,” Barnier’s office said in a statement.
The fishing industry employs an estimated 24,000 people in France and provides an extra 70,000 jobs in related sectors.
Fishermen at La Rochelle, just to the north of Sables d‘Olonne, said they would retain a stranglehold on their port to keep up the pressure on the government.
“Nothing has changed. We want to pay 40 cents for a litre of diesel and we want written guarantees,” said Pascal Guenezan, a spokesmen for the local fishing fleet. (Reporting by Claude Canellas in Bordeaux and Pierre-Henri Allain in Rennes; Editing by Catherine Evans)