As queues at the border with Gibraltar get longer and little advance is seen in the diplomatic front, Spain’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, Miguel Arias Cañete, warned that Madrid would continue to impose the border checks and has plans to target bunkering in ‘Spanish protected waters’.
“These controls are proportionate and justified because it is Schengen border and therefore we have to apply community regulations, more so because Gibraltar is a platform for tobacco smuggling…”Arias Cañete told reporters at a press conference.
The minister also signalled Spain’s intention to target companies operating permanently-anchored storage tankers in British Gibraltar territorial waters.
Spain, which says those waters are Spanish, approved legislation earlier this year banning such vessels in its EU nature protected site, which covers most of the waters around the Rock.
“We are going to modify our environmental legislation to establish a framework to allow us to sanction companies that carry out bunkering with permanently anchored ships” Arias Cañete said. “Bunkering is an activity that is legal under certain conditions but prohibited under others.”
In a statement, No.6 Convent Place said that bunkering in British waters around the Rock was governed by Gibraltar laws and complied fully with EU and international regulations.
“The Spanish Government therefore knows that it has no jurisdiction to regulate bunkering operations within the territorial limits of British Gibraltar waters,” the statement said.
“The Government confirms that it will not tolerate any attempts to interfere with lawful bunkering operations within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters” and finally to date “there have been no attempts to curtail or otherwise interfere with bunkering operations at sea”.
It has also emerged that Arias Cañete comments coincide with an ongoing drive by the port of Algeciras to increase its share of the bunkering market in the Strait of Gibraltar.
Algeciras has recently opened a new land-based fuel storage facility to service the bunker sector and is in the process of expanding it further. Gibraltar, where land is in high demand, must largely rely on floating storage.
The move was first announced last December as part of a wider legislative initiative approved by Spain’s Council of Ministers to upgrade the status of a Spanish EU-approved nature site that covers the entirety of British Gibraltar territorial waters.
Britain says Spain has no jurisdiction in these waters but Madrid is shielding itself behind the fact that the European Commission approved its site and that the European Court of Justice has dismissed two separate challenges to that designation.
There are two Gibraltar-based companies who each use a tanker anchored in the bay to store fuel, which is then delivered by smaller vessels to waiting ships. The bunkering sector in Gibraltar, one of the busiest ship-refuelling centres in the world, has a good environmental record that is recognised internationally.
Until recently Arias Cañete was a director of a fuel storage company in Ceuta that had a commercial relationship with one of the very Gibraltar-based companies targeted by the latest Spanish move.