US commercial fisherman held prisoner in British Virgin Islands finally returns home

U.S. commercial fisherman Michael Foy, who was held prisoner on the British Virgin Islands for more than four months, has finally returned home.

Foy was imprisoned on 8 June after being charged with “illegal entry and unlicensed fishing” after being told by the British Virgin Islands customs department to dock his boat in the waters off of Tortola, according to a petition. Foy claimed he had received permission in order to get passport stamps required for some of his crew, who are Indonesian nationals holding C-11 transit visas. A subsequent investigation found that Foy was denied entry due to the territory’s COVID-19 response.

Foy’s plight gained widespread attention from media, including USA Today and the Miami Herald. U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, as well as U.S. Representative Andy Kim, wrote a letter on behalf of Foy supporting a fair legal process.

In the end, Michael Foy’s daughter Jordan Cassof told SeafoodSource he pleaded guilty in order to return home. He was originally facing a USD 511,000 (EUR 430,000) fine along with the loss of his boat, but ended up paying a USD 4,000 (EUR 3,367) fine and got to keep his vessel, the Rebel Lady. 

“It was kind of a plea bargain in the end, he had said he was guilty, mainly because that was the only guaranteed way to keep the boat and not go back to prison,” Cassof said.

Foy still asserts he did nothing wrong, but in the end it was easier to plead guilty and accept the charges than continue fighting for an indeterminate amount of time – during which Foy was still imprisoned and his vessel did not receive maintenance.

“To do morally, and consciously, what you want to do, is it worth what’s at stake?” Cassof said.

Cassof and others fighting for Foy’s fair treatment referenced the Fishermen’s Protective Act, which directs the U.S. Secretary of State’s office to intervene in cases where a U.S.-based vessel is illegally seized by a foreign government.

“It should have been applied, and the U.S. government should have, could have done more,” Cassof said. “This shouldn’t happen to a fisherman. It was, to me, exploitation at its finest.”

While Foy will have to deal with monetary impacts caused by the case, he will be able to spend Thanksgiving with his family thanks to the release.

“We haven’t seen him here. It’s been a year since we’ve been able to see him,” Cassof said. “He’ll get to come see his granddaughter.”  

Photo courtesy of Foy Kelly


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