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Govt investigates incident at sea between Guardia Civil and tuna anglers

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The Gibraltar Government has said it is investigating an incident at sea where the Guardia Civil damaged a pleasure boat while trying to board it as anglers fished for Bluefin tuna in British waters on Thursday morning.

A statement from No.6 Convent Place confirmed that that a Guardia Civil Fishery Protection Vessel had entered British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) and was intercepted by HM Customs.

At around 10.30am on Thursday morning, HM Customs received a report from a local

vessel alleging that a Guardia Civil vessel had entered BGTW on the eastern side.

“The Guardia Civil vessel attempted to board the local vessel,” the Government said.

“In response, HMC Sentinel was deployed to the location. While on route, the crew was informed that the Guardia Civil vessel had ceased its attempt to board and had begun pursuing another local vessel.”

“Concurrently, numerous distress calls were received from members of the public regarding the incident.”

The Government confirmed that Guardia Civil vessel stopped its pursuit of the local vessel when HMC Sentinel approached the scene close to the eastern coastline, which was “well within” the three-mile limit of BGTW.

“An HMC officer boarded the local vessel,” the Government said.

“The Guardia Civil vessel came close, attempting to come alongside, but HMC Sentinel acted as a buffer and informed them that they were inside BGTW and that HMC would take control of the situation.”

According to the Government, the Guardia Civil claimed they attempted to stop a vessel allegedly fishing just outside of BGTW.

HMC Sentinel escorted the local vessel back to base for further questioning and to gather more information.

The two local occupants of the local vessel have provided an account of the event.

“Upon gathering information, it was ascertained that the local vessel had incurred damage on the starboard side near the bow,” the Government said.

“HMC is liaising with other local authorities as the investigation continues.”

In response to recent incidents, the Gibraltar Tuna Fishing Club has called on the Royal Navy and the Royal Gibraltar Police to “respond faster and have a permanent presence in BGTW”.

The club said the Guardia Civil (GC) has sent its fisheries vessel to Gibraltar since the season opened “on a daily basis to interfere with local boats fishing for Bluefin tuna”.

“The GC’s main fisheries vessel also has the capacity to hold a RHIB which it deploys at will around BGTW,” the Club said.

The club added that Thursday’s incident took place whilst the local boat was “hooked up to a tuna” in BGTW.

“The RHIB then proceeded to knock against the vessel several times in an attempt to board it and arrest the individuals concerned and/or confiscate the fishing gear being used,” the club said.

“The local vessel then was forced to cut the fishing line and head towards Gorham’s Cave.”

“Whilst there, the GC vessel then proceeded to harass it and it was not until HM Customs Gibraltar boarded the local boat that they backed off.”

The club also detailed another incident last week where the Guardia Civil also “attempted to board” the vessel.

“Last week, we saw an incident involving one of our members who was fishing alongside his 80-year-old father,” the club said.

“Whilst within BGTW the GC’s main vessel, together with the RHIB, attempted to board our member’s boat.”

“As he attempted to escape, the two GC vessels conducted highly dangerous manoeuvres and formed a dangerous wake in front of our member’s boat in an attempt to hinder or even damage and sink the vessel.”

“Such manoeuvres, when someone is entirely innocent and is merely fishing with his family, are unacceptable, highly dangerous and nothing other than unlawful.”

“Sadly, this is just one example of the GC’s disgraceful conduct within BGTW.”

A spokesperson for The Convent said the UK Government was aware of both incidents involving Spanish Guardia Civil vessels and fishing vessels within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.

“Incursions are responded to on a case-by-case basis,” the spokesperson said.

“They are a violation of sovereignty, not a threat to it. We have no doubt about the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, its territorial waters and airspace.”

“The UK protests incursions through the appropriate diplomatic channels and will continue to do so.”

The Tuna Fishing Club said its members are “extremely distressed at these recurring incidents”.

“The fact is that our members are doing nothing wrong,” the club said.

“They are fishing, as prescribed by the laws of Gibraltar, within the waters belonging to Gibraltar.”

“Any interference of such activity by the GC is simply intolerable and can very easily lead to serious damage to property and more importantly to serious injury.”

The club was critical of the Royal Navy and the RGP for their “insufficient” response to these incidents, which they said was “lacking”.

They called on the Royal Navy and the RGP to have a permanent presence in or around the

eastern side of BGTW, “where hundreds of locals are currently fishing”.

The club also called on both to be “more robust in their responses and to act swiftly” when notified of the Guardia Civil’s presence in BGTW waters.

“Sadly, we all know that the only way to deal with a bully such as the GC is to stand up to them,” the Club said.

“At present, the GC is bullying local boats with minimal reaction from the Royal Navy and the RGP. This is unacceptable.”

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