Friday, 1st February 2013
Fresh incursion provokes irritation at The Convent and No6
by Brian Reyes
Sir Adrian Johns, the Governor of Gibraltar, said yesterday that increased activity by Guardia Civil vessels in Gibraltar waters was “an unwelcome and unacceptable escalation” of an already difficult situation.
He was speaking just hours after the Guardia Civil patrol boat Rio Cedeña attempted to interfere with MH Bland’s harbour vessel Swordfish, which was working in the western anchorage of Gibraltar.
The incident also drew sharp condemnation from the Government of Gibraltar, which said the waters belonged to Gibraltar and the Spanish actions were unlawful.
Gibraltar waters were “as British as Main Street” and the incident was as serious as if it had happened on land.
“Repeated actions in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters in the past three years by agencies of the Spanish State are provocations that do not advance Spain’s unjustifiable claim to our waters,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“The fact is that the matter is now progressing beyond [diplomatic] ‘notes’ being passed from one Foreign Office to another.”
“Firmer diplomatic action is required to ensure the integrity of the sovereignty of British Gibraltar territorial waters.”
This was the second time in as many days that the Guardia Civil had tried to exercise jurisdiction in Gibraltar waters.
Vessels from the Gibraltar Defence Police and the Royal Gibraltar Police intervened and the Royal Navy issued warnings, after which the Guardia Civil boat moved off.
As the incident unfolded, a Spanish trawler fished just a few hundred metres away in Gibraltar waters using nets.
On several other occasions this week, Spanish state vessels have accompanied Spanish fishing boats as they fish using nets and rakes banned in British waters.
Yesterday’s incident prompted the British embassy in Madrid to loge an “immediate formal protest” with the Spanish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
In Gibraltar, the Governor issued a stern statement.
“These continuing actions by Spain are a matter of deep concern,” Sir Adrian said.
“The recent increased level of unlawful incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters by the Guardia Civil is an unwelcome and unacceptable escalation of what is already a difficult situation.”
“The recent petition I received [from the Defenders of Gibraltar] was a potent reflection of the depth of feeling in Gibraltar.” The petition organised by the Defenders of Gibraltar was signed by 10,000 people and called on the Governor and the British Government to take steps to maintain the integrity of British waters around Gibraltar.
It reflected the growing sense of frustration at the persistent incursions by the Guardia Civil, a sentiment that, if anything, has intensified since the petition was handed to the Governor last November and subsequently delivered by Sir Adrian to Britain’s Minister for Europe, David Lidington.
The Governor said he continued to liaise closely with the Chief Minister and the Government of Gibraltar on this issue.
“The Convent has ensured that my views on these recent developments and attempts by Spanish State vessels to exercise jurisdiction are raised directly with the Minister for Europe,” he added.
But even before yesterday, there was a sense for many in Gibraltar that the British Government was not doing enough
Gareth Gingell, the spokesman for the Defenders of Gibraltar, said that while the Governor’s stance was welcome, the message appeared not to be getting through to Britain.
“The Governor of Gibraltar has done his utmost best to help us in our circumstance,” he wrote in a statement issued by the group earlier this week.
“However his hands are well and truly tied.”
“In Gibraltar’s time of need, the UK are letting us down and abandoning us when we need them the most.”
“There can be no other interpretation.”