Spanish research ship leaves British waters amid brewing diplomatic storm
The Spanish research ship involved in a string of tense incursions over the weekend appeared to cut short its work today, sailing from Gibraltar waters just after midday under stormy skies and amid a brewing diplomatic row.
As the vessel sailed out into the Alboran Sea in heavy rain and rough seas, diplomats worked to analyse the sequence of events that sparked the first spat between London and Madrid since Spain’s new Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis Quecedo, took office earlier this month.
Both governments said they would file diplomatic protests over the events at sea, with UK MPs insisting that Britain should take a firm stance over the incursion.
Tory MP Bob Neill, the vice chairman of the Gibraltar group in the House of Commons, tweeted that the “strongest possible protest by [the] FCO [is] required.”
Strongest possible protest by FCO required - Cleary change of Spanish Foreign Minister has changed nothing https://t.co/VV04aEsSxY
— Bob Neill (@neill_bob) November 20, 2016
The Angeles Alvariño, which is operated by Spain’s state Oceanographic Institute, had been scheduled to be surveying an underwater canyon in the Bay of Gibraltar through to Friday.
But the Spanish vessel entered British waters several times without permission since last Friday, prompting the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron to challenge it repeatedly to cease operations.
On Sunday, the navy patrol boat fired three flares at different times of the day to warn the Spanish ship to leave the area.
A navy rigid-hull inflatable speedboat also manoeuvred close to the Spanish ship to prevent it from deploying a sonar buoy in British waters.
Today the Royal Navy research vessel HMS Scott sailed close to the Spanish ship as it left the Rock after a short refit at GibDock. The British ship spent much of the day to the east of Gibraltar.
“There have been a number of unlawful incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters by the Spanish state research vessel, the Angeles Alvariño, since Friday 18 November,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.
“The UK is protesting against the incursion directly to the Spanish authorities at a senior level, making clear that such violations of the UK’s sovereignty are unacceptable.”
“The UK continues to take very seriously any attempt by Spain to exercise jurisdiction or control within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. Incursions are a violation of sovereignty.”
“They do not weaken or undermine the international legal basis for UK sovereignty over British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.”
The Spanish Government also indicated that it would file a counter protest.
A spokesman at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Madrid said Spain would complain about the Royal Navy’s “interference” with the scientific vessel.
Photo by DM Parody