Navy’s Gibraltar stand-off with Spanish patrol

Navy’s Gibraltar stand-off with Spanish patrol: Warship challenges three ships after illegal incursion into The Rock’s waters

gibraltar 2A Royal Navy warship was embroiled in a stand-off with a Spanish patrol boat after an illegal incursion into Gibraltar’s waters.

HMS Sabre, a Gibraltar Squadron patrol vessel with Army and Navy troops aboard, challenged the Civil Guard’s Rio Cedena and two other state ships.

The Spaniards deliberately entered British-controlled waters as part of an ongoing ‘campaign of harassment’ over the Rock, itwas claimed.

The incident took place as the Foreign Office revealed Spain had made almost 600 illegal incursions in just 14 months – or ten times a week – as tensions mount.

The provocation has prompted MPs to demand a Royal Navy frigate to be permanently based in Gibraltar to deter Spain from sabre-rattling.

Only last week the Spanish ambassador to the UK was summoned by the Foreign Office after one of the country’s research vessels unlawfully entered British coastal waters off Gibraltar.

The latest face-off, on Monday, came when three Spanish state vessels breached the 12-mile territorial limit.
An eyewitness said: ‘It seems they entered for no good reason other than to continue harassing and illegally exerting their presence.

‘The Spanish vessels made deliberate manoeuvres to provoke a reaction. There was nothing to suggest they were going anywhere, except to create an incident.’

They were confronted by HMS Sabre, a Royal Gibraltar Patrol vessel and two Royal Navy ribbed inflatables.

The number of incursions has risen from just 30 in 2011 to 496 last year.

So far this year, there have been more than 80 unlawful incursions, including by Spanish police, naval and coastguard vessels.

Earlier this year a Spanish warship had to be escorted off British territory by HMS Sabre after it entered the waters near Gibraltar.

The boat allegedly used a fake name and call sign, and refused to leave by its own accord at it claimed it was in Spanish waters, local media said.

MPs, including Alec Shelbrooke (pictured) have been saying that warships should be ‘permanent residence’ in the waters of Gibraltar

MPs, including Alec Shelbrooke (pictured) have been saying that warships should be ‘permanent residence’ in the waters of Gibraltar

The vessel approached as UK Special Forces personnel from the Royal Navy’s Submarine Parachute Assistance Group were carrying out training jumps into the sea.

Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar, said: ‘We are getting to the stage where we need to send warships down there as a permanent presence to protect British interests and our citizens.
‘If Spain keeps encroaching on our territory, then maybe our Navy should start encroaching on any Spanish ships that encroach into our waters.’

Britain was given Gibraltar in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, but Spain has said it will never renounce its claim to sovereignty.
Spanish aggression over the Rock increased after the election of Mariano Rajoy as the country’s prime minister in 2011.

But relations between Madrid and London over the Mediterranean territory have deteriorated drastically since the construction of an artificial reef by the Gibraltar government which Spain says has interfered with their fisherman.

Madrid responded by imposing tighter border controls, leading to long delays at the frontier, as the row escalated.

In November, a British diplomatic bag was opened and searched by Spanish Guardia Civil officers on the border with Gibraltar – an incident the Foreign Office described as a ‘serious infringement’ of international diplomatic protocols.
Repeated incursions into Gibraltar’s waters by Spanish state vessels led to the Spanish ambassador in London being summoned to the Foreign Office for a series of dressing downs.

In one outburst, the Gibraltar Chief Minister has warned that Spanish vessels entering British territory may come under fire as they are not identified as being from ‘a friendly nation’.

Fabian Picardo warned that Spanish boats ‘may find themselves shot at’ if they continue to disregard Gibraltar’s marine borders.