A suspected smuggler was removed from Gibraltar territorial waters by the Spanish Guardia Civil following physical scuffles and a tense stand-off with the Gibraltar police. The incident was described as “very serious” and Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana warned that it could undermine the efforts of the Trilateral Forum to cooperate on law enforcement issues.
“Today's incident is wholly unacceptable and calls into question the viability of cooperation between the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Guardia Civil and the conclusion of agreements in this area in the Trilateral Forum,” Mr Caruana said.
“The Government takes a most serious view of the abusive behaviour of the Guardia Civil and will now consider the effect that it will have in related matters.”
The RGP had chased a suspicious boat along the west side of the Rock but the Guardia Civil intervened and insisted they were in Spanish waters, even though the incident was unfolding close to the Detached Mole.
When the RGP crew climbed on board to arrest the man at the helm of the suspect vessel, he retaliated and resisted, biting one policeman on the arm. Armed Guardia Civil officers then boarded the boat and claimed jurisdiction of the detained person and vessel, refusing to let the RGP take either of them away.
“A very tense situation developed with physical aggression being displayed by the Guardia Civil officers towards the RGP officers, physically impeding and manhandling the RGP officers preventing them from effecting the arrest and take control of the vessel and the arrested individual,” the RGP said in a statement.
The situation became highly volatile, prompting senior officers of both the RGP and the Guardia Civil to rush to the scene. When he got there the Commissioner of the RGP, Louis Wink, made it “unequivocally clear” that the intervention of the vessel had taken place within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and that the Guardia Civil had no jurisdiction over the matter.
This was contested by the Guardia Civil senior officer who claimed to be acting on orders to take executive action in any of the waters surrounding Gibraltar. As this was unfolding at sea, British and Spanish diplomats on land worked the phones to try and defuse the situation.
“We were fortunate that this did not get out of hand,” one official said. “Situations like this can easily turn nasty”.
At its peak there were eight vessels involved in the face off, including three Guardia Civil patrol boats as well as vessels from the RGP, the Gibraltar Defence Police, the Gibraltar Squadron and the Gibraltar Port Authority.
Finally Guardia Civil officers facilitated the arrested person on to their vessel and took him away towards Algeciras, where following questioning and nothing illegal found in his boat, he was released.
A spokesman for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office confirmed that an incident had occurred but would not go into details. “We were in contact with the Spanish throughout to try and resolve the situation,” the spokesman said.
“We will decide whether to take any further action once we've received further reports”.