Gunshots mark ‘tipping point’ in crime at sea
A police crew had to cut short a drugs chase at sea on Tuesday night after hearing two gunshots, in an incident described by the Royal Gibraltar Police as “a tipping point” in maritime policing in this region.
This is believed to be the first time in recent memory that shots have been fired during a high-speed night time chase at sea.
Senior police officers told the Chronicle it was not clear whether the shots had been fired at the police boat or into the air to intimidate.
The crew on the boat – who included personnel from both the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Gibraltar Defence Police – heard the gunshots but did not see a firearm.
But while neither the officers nor their vessel was hit, the police crew opted to cut short the chase rather than risk a clash with firearms.
The incident comes against the backdrop of increased concern among law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border that organised crime gangs are increasingly willing to use violent tactics.
There have been several shooting incidents between gangs in La Linea in recent weeks and Spanish officers have been assaulted and pelted with rocks when trying to stop drug operations.
In recent weeks, the RGP and other local law enforcement agencies took the unusual step of arming officers on patrol boats for their own personal protection.
In the wake of this latest incident, senior police and Customs personnel here are reviewing their operational procedures and stance at sea.
“This incident represents a tipping point in maritime policing and the situation remains under review,” the RGP said in a statement.
“The RGP will continue to patrol British Gibraltar territorial waters to combat this illicit activity whilst ensuring officers safety and the effective application of the rule of law.”
“The RGP will robustly continue to work with law enforcement colleagues to identify the perpetrators and eradicate this threat to the public, our officers and our colleagues.”
The gunshot incident happened during a joint pursuit involving the RGP interceptor and Spain’s Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera.
The RGP vessel was chasing the drugs boat about two miles of Catalan Bay with the SVA vessel behind when the shots were heard.
When the RGP boat pulled back, the SVA crew stopped to check the Gibraltarian officers were unharmed, before continuing without success to try and locate the smugglers.
Yesterday the Gibraltar Police Federation said it “strongly condemns” the shooting incident.
“Fortunately, on this occasion there were no injuries sustained by our officers,” the Federation said in a statement.
“We hold this in the highest condemnation of acts by persons engaging in illicit activities in our region.”
“Officers in the Marine Section of the Royal Gibraltar Police will continue to carry on their duties in a highly professional and efficient manner, ensuring the safety of our community, as always.”
“The Federation continues backing our members who carry out a very difficult and demanding role.”
“We encourage and welcome more communication and cooperation with our Spanish law enforcement agencies - the Guardia Civil, the Servicio Vigilancia Aduanera and the Policia Nacional - who are working towards the common goal of keeping our waters and regions safe against crime and drug trafficking.”
There was condemnation too from the AUGC, an association which represents Guardia Civil officers, which said the incident represented “another turn of the screw in the challenge of organised crime and drug trafficking in the Strait of Gibraltar”.
The AUGC said there was great unease among law enforcement personnel who have for some time have had information that traffickers “are starting to arm themselves and even hire hitmen to counter law enforcement actions”.
The AUGC complained that Spanish authorities had not taken the necessary steps to counter the new threat, repeating a longstanding claim for additional personnel and resources.
Last night the Gibraltar Government also added its voice to the clamour of condemnation and said this type of incident endangered the lives of officers and others at sea, confirming intelligence that the RGP had also been aware of for some time.
“As a result, the RGP have been well prepared for this type of escalation by those who find their criminal actions repeatedly thwarted by the great work which officers and at sea and on land,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“This type of violence reflects the desperation of criminal gangs.”
“In that sense, the unacceptable escalation is a recognition of the successes that our seaborne law enforcement agencies have scored and will continue to score against these gangs.”
He added: “Such incidents must also underscore for the whole community the risk to which officers put themselves in doing their jobs protecting the rest of us and keeping illicit cargoes out of our waters and drugs off our streets.”
“Once again, this was a joint operation with Spanish law enforcement agencies, also demonstrating how well Gibraltar cooperates with the Spanish law enforcement agencies at a real and operational level.”
“Above all, we must ensure the safety and security of those who keep us safe and secure by ensuring they have the resources necessary to do their jobs safely, something we are totally committed to.”