A storm has erupted over the visit of the British nuclear powered submarine HMS Sceptre, a 27-year-old vessel. The submarine arrived last week for what British authorities described as routine maintenance on its diesel engine. There is no suggestion that the nuclear reactor has any defect.
Another British nuclear submarine, HMS Tireless docked at the Gibraltar base for a year in 2001 with a fault in the cooling system of its reactor.
This caused considerable indignation in Spain related to fears that local waters might have been contaminated by radioactivity. None was detected.
On this occasion, Peter Caruana, Gibraltar's Chief Minister was also upset as the new Commander of British Forces in Gibraltar failed to brief him fully about the details of problems with the submarine.
The Spanish Foreign Minister has asked that no more British nuclear submarines repaired in Gibraltar, whatever the fault. In Madrid diplomatic protests were made to the British Ambassador. Nothing, however, is mentioned about American nuclear submarines undergoing routine repairs in their nearby base at Rota, Cadiz.
In 2002, the MT Prestige disaster where a large oil tanker broke up at sea causing massive pollution of Galicia when it was not allowed into any port for repair. At the time the PSOE claimed this was due to incompetence by the then Government of Spain.
In Gibraltar the Environmental Safety Group has called for no more visits until a modernized public safety plan is implemented. Mr Caruana stated on a Sky News television interview that his Government had no objection to non-nuclear repairs and to submarine visits of a recreational nature.
The submarine is expected to leave next Wednesday on schedule.