A Spanish Navy warship, the Centinela, deliberately ignored radio calls from authorities on Gibraltar after it violated British territorial waters around the island on Saturday. This prompted the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron to dispatch one of its fast patrol boats, HMS Sabre, to order the vessel to leave. It has been reported by the press in Gibraltar that this led to a potentially dangerous situation when the British patrol boat came “within yards” of being rammed by the 1,200 ton Spanish warship.
The British Daily Express newspaper claimed a source within the Royal Navy told them;
Instead of leaving, she deliberately altered and re-altered her course. At one stage there was a real and imminent danger of collision.
The government on Gibraltar were quick to condemn the incident and criticised the Spanish Navy and government for the provocative act. Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said;
These silly but dangerous manoeuvres by a supposed Nato ally are operationally irresponsible, legally irrelevant and politically inopportune. They do nothing to create a positive environment for mutual co-operation and instead hark back to another century.
This latest incident comes ahead of a planned visit by Spanish King Felipe VI to the UK scheduled to take place in the middle of this month. It is the first time in over 31 years that a Spanish monarch has visited Britain but some MPs have called for the visit to be cancelled in protest to Spain’s continued disregard for Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
Conservative Andrew Rosindell, MP for the Romford constituency in Greater London, said on Sunday;
The people of Gibraltar are rightly nervous. They break the rules while we, in turn, welcome the King and Queen of Spain for a state visit. What kind of message is that for the people of Gibraltar? The people of Gibraltar are very unnerved, and rightly so. The Government needs to be much more robust.
Last weekend’s incident is only the latest in a long line of incursions in to the waters around Gibraltar by Spanish ships;
- Tuesday July 7th 2015 – A Royal Navy RIB was damaged in a collision with the Spanish survey ship Angeles Alvarino in Gibraltar’s waters.
- April 2016 – It was reported that a Spanish Guarda Civil patrol boat deliberately blocked a US submarine, USS Florida, as it sailed through Gibraltar’s waters forcing the Royal Navy to fire flares over the vessel to warn it off.
- Sunday November 20th 2016 – HMS Sabre uses flares to warn off the Spanish survey ship Angeles Alvarino after attempts to contact it by radio failed.
- Thursday April 13th 2017 – Royal Navy escorts patrol boat Infanta Cristina back to Spanish waters.
- Saturday April 29th 2017 – The Spanish corvette ‘Cazadora’ entered waters off Gibraltar, where Royal Navy and local police launches sailed out to meet it.
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed Britain’s continued support for Gibraltar’s sovereignty while the EU continues to demand that Spain should have influence over the British territory’s future after Brexit.