UK reassures support for Gibraltar after major incident with Spain in the Rock’s waters
UK reassured support for Gibraltar following Wednesday night’s incident when several Spanish Guardia Civil vessels and a helicopter were involved in a tense standoff with the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police and the Royal Navy while the Spanish trawlers tried to cast nets in the Rock’s bay.
According to the Gibraltar media UK’s minister for Europe David Lidington called Chief Minister Fabian Picardo to express London’s position and support. Next week Foreign Secretary William Hague will be receiving his Spanish peer Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo in London to address bilateral issues including the Gibraltar long standing dispute.
During the incident the Guardia Civil ignored repeated warnings by the Royal Navy ordering the Spanish vessels to leave British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. Britain claims three miles of territorial sea around Gibraltar but Spain does not recognise this.
Chief Minister Piccardo strongly condemned the Spanish incursion and described the incident as a“…obviously carefully premeditated challenge to our indisputable sovereignty, jurisdiction and control of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and our airspace”.
Picardo said decision makers in Spain should take their challenge on jurisdiction to the courts rather than seek confrontation at sea.
“Those who are orchestrating these dangerous confrontations need to come to their senses and accept the challenge, once and for all, to litigate their claims to our territory in the relevant international tribunals established for that purpose in the 21st century and not put people's safety and security at risk trying to advance their position out at sea as if in the 18th century,” he said.
British officials in Gibraltar also condemned the incident.
In a statement, the Convent (Gov House) commended the restraint and professionalism shown by the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police and Royal Navy in dealing with what it described as “a protracted and difficult illegal incursion”.
“We call on all parties to the fishing dispute to show restraint and work towards a swift and peaceful resolution,” the statement said. “We welcome the constructive approach adopted by the La Linea fishermen and the Government of Gibraltar.”
From Madrid Interior minister, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, insisted Spain would not be intimidated or humiliated over the fishing dispute. Our fishing vessels are going to be protected at all times and I am sure we will reach an understanding in the end. We're not going to accept intimidation or humiliation, which I am sure no-one wants, to make Spain suffer.
Diaz claimed the RGB had apologised for the incident and insisted they had mistaken the Spanish fishermen from Algeciras for fishermen from the North African enclave of Ceuta.
The Spanish fishermen - based in the southern Spanish port city of Algeciras - say they are being prevented from fishing off the Rock in waters they claim as their own in breach of a 1999 agreement aimed at protecting fish numbers.
Picardo said fishing with nets in waters Gibraltar claims as its own is outlawed under a 1991 environmental law unless a licence is issued.
Minister García-Margallo when he meets Hague is expected to insist that Spanish fishermen be allowed to fish in “Spanish waters” around the Rock.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday the minister again called for a return to the 1999 fishing agreement, which he described as a “satisfactory” framework. Spain wants “dialogue, negotiation and good understanding” on this issue but also “respect for the rights of Spanish fishermen to fish in their waters”.
Garcia Margallo told reporters that he would raise the issue of bilateral sovereignty talks during his meeting with Hague next Tuesday. He said sovereignty was something to be resolved “exclusively” by the UK and Spain, “without the intervention of the authorities on the Rock”.
That position clashes with Britain’s oft-stated view that there can be no discussion on sovereignty without the agreement of the people of Gibraltar.