Latest incursion by Spanish warship in to Gibraltar’s waters prompts calls to cancel visit by King Felipe VI to Buckingham Palace

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.

Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron HMS Sabre

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.

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Spanish Navy vessel intercepted by Royal Navy off Gibraltar as tension grows

spanish gunboat gibraltarAs the war of words between Britain and Spain intensifies over the future of Gibraltar following the triggering of Article 50 starting Britain’s process of leaving the European Union, a Spanish gunboat entered Gibraltar’s territorial waters today and was promptly intercepted by a Royal Navy patrol boat. The vessel was then escorted back to Spanish waters.

A spokesperson for the government of Gibraltar was quoted in the Press Association as saying;

 The ship entered British/Gibraltarian territorial waters. It was met by the Gibraltar Squadron and invited to leave.

Gibraltar has been a British possession since 1713 when it was officially ceded under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht to Great Britain although it had been under a British occupation since 1704 when it was captured by Admiral Sir George Rooke. The Treaty of Utrecht helped end the War of the Spanish Succession which saw an alliance of European nations including Britain fighting against France and Spain which was then ruled by Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second-eldest grandson of King Louis XIV of France.

In the treaty, Spain outlined that Britain now held dominion over;

The full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging … for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.

Modern-day Spain largely accepts that Britain has control over the island but the source of the dispute lays in the waters around “the rock” that are considered British. Spain claims this inhibits its fishing industry and presents an obstacle to its shipping. The Government of Gibraltar and the UK government disagree, a position largely accepted by the international community.

hms-sabre-scimitar-class-patrol-boat-royal-navy-gibraltarThe Royal Navy maintains two fast patrol boats under the Gibraltar Squadron namely HMS Sabre and HMS Scimitar, to help secure Gibraltar’s shores and support military and civil vessels in the Strait of Gibraltar. These vessels are also supported by a small number of rigid inflatables one of which was damaged during an incident involving an intruding Spanish survey vessel in 2015.

While long the source of debate between Britain and Spain, the argument flared again when Gibraltar featured in a document last week outlining the plans for Britain’s Article 50 negotiations that suggested that Spain would be given a veto over any agreements that cover the British territory. British Prime Minister Theresa May and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have both reiterated that the sovereignty of the islands will be decided by the people who live there and it is clear they wish to remain British despite the island’s population voting against Brexit last year.

Royal Navy fires flares to warn off Spanish ship in Gibraltar waters

hms-sabre-scimitar-class-patrol-boat-royal-navy-gibraltar

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.

 

NEWS: Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron tangles with intruding Spanish government vessel

HMS Sabre of the Gibraltar Squadron (commons.wikimedia)

HMS Sabre of the Gibraltar Squadron (commons.wikimedia)

In yet another confrontation between British and Spanish vessels in Gibraltan waters the British Foreign Office have confirmed that the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron has had to intercept and escort a Spanish government vessel that was in “clear violation of international law”. There have also been reports that a Spanish helicopter was involved in the incident.

The Spanish vessel in question belonged to the Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera (SVA) which is the Spanish police’s drugs and money laundering squad. The Spanish authorities claim the vessel was in pursuit of a criminal faction when they entered Gibraltan waters and was intercepted by the Royal Navy.

Minister Hugo Swire of the Gibraltan government added that the incident was one of several incursions by the Spanish on the 9th of August and that these incursions were “completely unacceptable.”

With regards to the pursuit of the criminals Minister Swire told the BBC;

We understand that the Spanish were in pursuit of vessels who may have been committing crimes. However it is completely unacceptable and unlawful under the international law of the sea to enter our waters without notifying us. {It is a} clear violation of UK Sovereignty by another EU country.

The Gibraltan government added that in the past police in Gibraltar have assisted in such matters of pursuing criminals and that had the Spanish contacted them prior to entering Gibraltan waters then they could have organized a proper response.

Earlier this year in July a Royal Navy RHIB was damaged intercepting a Spanish survey ship the Angeles Alvarino.

NEWS: Royal Navy RIB damaged in incident off Gibraltar

A Royal Navy RIB like that involved in the collision (eliteforces.info)

A Royal Navy RIB like that involved in the collision (eliteforces.info)

A Royal Navy Rigid-hull Inflatable Boat (RIB) sent to intercept a Spanish survey ship trespassing in British waters off the coast of Gibraltar was damaged on Sunday when it struck the survey vessel’s probe. Thankfully no one was hurt in the incident.

In the latest chapter of the centuries long dispute over the ownership of Gibraltar which is currently under British administration the British government issued a strong protest to the Spanish over the survey vessel’s incursion. The Spanish responded by stating that the survey vessel, the Angeles Alvarino, was simply taking readings of a marine nature reserve declared by the Spanish government that includes territory inside Gibraltar’s territorial line.

The Royal Navy commented that the vessel acted in a dangerous and reckless way and that it is fortunate no one was hurt in the incident. The Royal Navy has two Scimitar-class patrol boats and three Pacific Rigid Inflatable Boats operating off Gibraltar.