Royal Navy expels Spanish Guardia Civil vessels from Gibraltar territorial waters
The Royal Navy expelled a Guardia Civil vessel from Gibraltar waters following an incursion by Spanish fishermen last week, in a clear sign that Britain will not tolerate any attempt to escalate the fishing row.
A British navy officer told the Spanish vessel that it was violating international law and ordered it to leave British territorial waters immediately. The message, delivered over VHF radio from a control room on land, had the desired effect and the Spanish boat complied.
The exchange came just hours after the Spanish Government said it would use Guardia Civil vessels to protect Spanish fishermen as they fished in Gibraltar waters. The Royal Navy warning was recorded and later broadcast by GBC, the first time such an exchange has been heard publicly via the mainstream media.
The intervention over the radio came after six Algeciras-based fishing vessels – each towing a smaller ‘lucero’ boat – entered Gibraltar waters at around 9.35pm and made as if to fish opposite the southern entrance of the harbour. Their presence brought a swift response from agencies in Gibraltar, which despatched three vessels to the scene.
This was the first significant incursion by Spanish fishing boats following the collapse this week of talks to resolve the ongoing dispute over fishing rights.
It meant tensions at sea were running high.
The Royal Navy then issued its warning to the Guardia Civil. “This is Gibraltar Navy Ops,” the officer said over the VHF radio.
“You are in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and I consider you to be violating UNCLOS (Law of the Sea) Article 19 governing the right of innocent passage.”
“You are to cease your current actions and leave British Gibraltar Territorial Waters immediately.” The warning was repeated three times, sources said.
Meantime Spanish Foreign minister speaking from Brazil called for “strategic patience” in the dispute with Gibraltar.
“I hope we move toward dialogue and negotiation as we’ve always done” he told reporters. The message was echoed by the heads of the fishing guilds in Algeciras and La Linea in the wake of the standoff.
Both said that the fishermen were unlikely to head toward Gibraltar waters, though they could not rule out individual crews acting on their own and sailing toward the Rock. The fishermen are due to meet representatives of the Spanish Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry in Algeciras on Monday. The fishermen from La Linea will also meet Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and La Linea Mayor Gemma Araujo, on Tuesday