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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

IAR 'pushes the boat out' to catch illegal hunters in Malta

High-speed patrol boatIAR will this week unveil its latest weapon in the fight against the illegal shooting of birds migrating over Malta to their breeding grounds in northern Europe. The charity is handing over a new high-speed patrol boat to the police to help them catch hunters illegally shooting birds at sea, many of which are on their way to Europe. The launch comes in the wake of a visit to Malta by a powerful EU delegation to assess their bird protection laws and enforcement.

The new 70 mph, 250 hp power boat has been designed and custom-built in Malta to support the work of the Administrative Law Enforcement department (ALE). The ALE has more than 23 police officers dedicated to enforcing laws protecting wildlife and the environment, but they lack equipment. In recent years IAR has donated a high-speed RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and two high-powered boat engines to the ALE to help them keep up with the hunters.

Attending the official handover ceremony on 22 April at the Police Headquarters will be the Commissioner of Police Rizzo, Assistant Commissioner Brincat and Inspector Miruzzi of the ALE, and other officials, as well as Alan Knight, Chief Executive Officer of IAR and Max Farrugia, Chairman of IAR Malta. The new patrol vessel will be dedicated to James Cassar, a young IAR supporter from Malta who tragically died in a car accident. His family has made a donation towards the cost of the boat in his memory.

Victims of illegal shootingIllegal shooting has been a severe problem in Malta for many years: it is estimated that 10% of the population of some 350,000 are responsible for shooting and trapping of hundreds of thousands of wild birds every year. The slaughter includes some of the most familiar and popular species in the UK - swifts, swallows and house martins, sky larks, song thrushes, robins and turtle doves. Many of these birds arrive on Malta exhausted after long migration flights, only to find the hunters lying in wait for them.

When IAR first set up its office in Malta in 1990, birds were being shot in nature reserves and public gardens. However, in recent years the government has dramatically increased its efforts to clamp down on illegal shooting.

Alan Knight, Chief Executive of IAR, says: "It’s ironic that, while people in the UK love birds and birdwatching, in Malta a fanatical minority is obsessed with killing as many as birds as they can. The Maltese authorities recognise that this indiscriminate slaughter is a huge blot on Malta’s reputation as a desirable tourist destination that horrifies bird and nature lovers in Britain, and we fully support their efforts to stamp out all illegal shooting activity. Last October I went out on a sea patrol with the Maltese police. I saw at first-hand their determination to catch hunters who are flouting the law. There are strict regulations governing what species can be shot and, where the rules are being broken, the shooters will be arrested and prosecuted."

At the end of 2004 two hunters were sent to prison for shooting swans - a species protected by law. It was the first time that custodial sentences were given for illegal shooting in Malta and they were hailed as "a landmark decision for wildlife in Malta" by Max Farrugia of IAR Malta. The police were using a boat donated by the charity when the arrests were made.