The Royal Navy Scimitar-class fast patrol boat, HMS Sabre, was forced to fire the flares over the Spanish research vessel Angeles Alvarino after it entered the territorial waters of Gibraltar without authorisation and then failed to respond to radio calls. The incursion occurred yesterday after midday and once the flares were fired the Spanish vessel left Gibraltar’s waters without further incident.
The Ministry of Defence issued a statement saying;
The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters. We back this up by making formal diplomatic protests to the Spanish government.
This was the second time in three days that the Angeles Alvarino had entered Gibraltar’s waters without permission. The Angeles Alvarino, whose mission on behalf of the Spanish government is to conduct geological research of the seabed, is a frequent intruder in Gibraltar’s waters and as such the Royal Navy’s fast patrol boats are quite familiar with it. Last year a Royal Navy RHIB was damaged when it struck a survey probe dropped by the vessel.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo was quoted in The Telegraph as saying;
I congratulate the Royal Navy for the work they have undertaken so far in very challenging circumstances in light of the reckless disregard for safety displayed by the official Spanish vessels involved. Diplomatic and political action must now support the excellent work undertaken by the navy personnel with limited resources.
The Royal Navy’s Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone CB CBE who currently holds the NATO post of Commander of Allied Maritime Command has spoken publicly about his concerns for civilian shipping in the Mediterranean given the situation in Libya. Speaking to The Telegraph he said that ISIL (also known as Islamic State, ISIS and Daesh) had cast an “uncomfortable shadow” over shipping in the Mediterranean. The capture of coastal towns and cities by the group earlier this month such as Sirte has caused widespread alarm in Europe since the group now possesses bases with which to carry out such attacks which Vice Admiral Johnstone claims could include using sophisticated Russian and Chinese weapons acquired on the black market.
Just the threat of attacks presents major problems for Europe and NATO in the Mediterranean. At the very least a major surveillance operation will be required to detect vessels coming from ISIL-held ports and territories. Fortunately, this is already largely in operation, partly to monitor ISIL activity and partly to track the many thousands of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
Given the sheer number of vessels transiting the Mediterranean, attacks by ISIL would have serious economic consequences for the European Union. As well as the loss of any cargo vessels and their goods, security costs and maritime insurance policies would no doubt go up increasing transport costs of the cargoes which in turn would increase the costs to the consumer.
This is to say nothing about the cost in human lives if ISIL target a cruise liner with 6-8,000 people onboard.
These worries have reinforced the opinion that Britain and other NATO countries should increase its support to forces in Libya opposed to ISIL. This would involve a combination of airstrikes with training and logistical support.