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.
Figures released this month show that Royal Navy counter-narcotics operations have resulted in the seizure of drugs worth £937 million. The figure represents a two-year period starting on January 1st 2014 and have involved smuggling routes across the Caribbean, North Arabian Sea, Mediterranean and closer to home in the North Sea.
Ships listed as having been involved in the raids were;
HMS St Albans
Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Wave Knight.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Royal Navy’s efforts showed “Britain at it’s best”.
The Royal Navy Albion-class assault ship, HMS Bulwark, rescued 110 migrants from a dinghy on Thursday which was slowly sinking off the coast of Libya. The rescue was the first by a British ship since the dramatic increase in the number of cases of people smuggling across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe beginning in March. Once the migrants were taken onboard their dinghy was deliberately sunk so as to not pose a threat to shipping in the region.
The operation was carried out with the support of the Italian Coast Guard who have been at the forefront of rescue operations for the thousands of desperate people risking their lives and their family’s lives in their attempt to make the crossing often in virtually unseaworthy vessels. Due to the sheer number of people crammed aboard the dinghy and the urgency to get them off, Bulwark used her landing craft to remove the people en masse.
The migrants were transferred to the Italian coastguard vessel Fiorillo and were subsequently taken to the Italian mainland for medical assessment. In the past week alone Italian and French vessels have rescued nearly 6000 migrants from the Mediterranean while at least 10 bodies have been recovered.