1st December 1996
French fishing boats prepare to invade
When did France last invade the Channel Islands? It’s probably more recently than you think, as up to 60 French boats massed for invasion on 1 December 1996. The actual advance took place two days later.
The boats were a fleet from Granville protesting the end of an informal agreement allowing them to fish in two well-stocked areas known as the Sark Box and Haricot, which together comprised 64 square miles.
Authorities from both Britain and France kept watch. British fisheries inspectors were among the French boats in a small inflatable of their own, while the French had sent a more substantial but still unarmed coastguards boat and a Navy helicopter.
The French fishermen had intended to “invade” on 1 December – the same day they had gathered in port – but, according to a report in The Times, this had to be pushed back by a day because a French lorry drivers’ strike left them short of fuel. Bad weather the following day meant it had to be put back by another 24 hours.
Despite a desire not to inflame the situation, both countries were standing their ground. The French Navy and coastguard were ready to intervene should any French fishermen be arrested and said that they would arrest any Guernsey fishermen who strayed into certain French waters.
It wasn’t the first time French fishermen had fought for their rights to fish in Channel Island waters. British authorities made arrests in 1993 over a previous incident that saw a French skipper end up in a St Peter Port court.