The Foreign Office summoned the Spanish ambassador in London and condemned Madrid’s ‘provocative incursions’ in Gibraltar waters saying that it “is in the interests of Spain, as well as Gibraltar and Britain, to avoid any incident that may damage the prospects of developing a harmonious and collaborative relationship between Gibraltar and Spain”.
Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office Simon Fraser on Wednesday summoned Spanish Ambassador H.E. Federico Trillo, in order to underline the British Government’s concerns regarding recent incursions in to British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
Likewise the Minister for Europe, David Lidington said that the UK has repeatedly made diplomatic protests to Spain over attempts by Spanish state authorities to exercise jurisdiction in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
“Yet on 13 November there were two further serious incursions. A large Spanish naval ship conducted a prominent patrol through British Gibraltar Territorial Waters lasting several hours. Later on the same day a Spanish customs vessel sought to apprehend a Gibraltarian civilian boat in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, forcing the Royal Gibraltar Police to intervene in order to safeguard the welfare of the four occupants”.
“I condemn these provocative incursions and urge the Spanish government to ensure that they are not repeated. We believe that it is in the interests of Spain, as well as Gibraltar and Britain, to avoid any incident that may damage the prospects of developing a harmonious and collaborative relationship between Gibraltar and Spain. It is also in all parties’ interests to avoid incidents which could put at risk the safety of those operating in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. We remain confident of UK sovereignty over British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and fully committed to protecting the interests of the people of Gibraltar and their wish to remain under British sovereignty.”
On Wednesday the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group in the House of Commons, Labour MP Jim Dobbins, urged a more stern response from Britain to the Spanish actions.
Speaking on GBC, Mr Dobbins said he had written “a strong letter” to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office asking it to summon the Spanish ambassador to London for a “frank and robust” discussion over the incursions.
“We expect the British government to step in now and call the Spanish government to order over this,” he said.
The Spanish Government played down the incursion by the Spanish navy vessel, as it did following a similar incident last week.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid told the state owned news service Efe that the corvette was carrying out routine patrolling duties “in Spanish waters”.
The first incursion involved the Spanish navy corvette Vencedora, which sailed up and down the length of the Bay of Gibraltar flying a large Spanish flag and ignoring warnings to leave Gibraltar waters. But it was the second incident later on Tuesday that perhaps was the more serious of the two.
Apparently a vessel operated by the Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera, the Spanish customs, stopped a local pleasure boat around 500m off the North Mole. The SVA crew tied their vessel alongside and demanded to see the identity documents of the four local men on board the vessel.
The Royal Gibraltar Police then appeared at the scene and prevented the SVA crew from continuing what one source described as “illegal executive action” in British waters, where they have no jurisdiction.
“They were going to tow the local boat to Algeciras” said Gibraltar sources. To prevent that from happening, RGP officers jumped on board the local boat and cut the ropes.
A spokesman for the RGP confirmed that there had been an incident involving an SVA but declined to confirm any details.
Earlier this week the Gibraltar Government praised the work of the RGP Marine Section, while underscoring that responsibility for maintaining the integrity of British Gibraltar territorial waters is the constitutional responsibility of the UK government.
The RGP recently put two new interceptor vessels into operation and is expected to take delivery of two additional patrol boats in the coming week.