UK officials play down reports of incident at sea, UK to protest incursion
UK officials have played down reports of a clash at sea last Friday between a Guardia Civil rigid-hulled inflatable boat and vessels from the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron and HM Customs (Gibraltar).
Spanish media reported that the Guardia Civil had been “harassed” by the Gibraltar vessels on Friday as it tried to stop and board the occupants of a pleasure boat.
Video recorded by those occupants and shared widely on social media appears to show a Royal Navy RHIB coming between the Guardia Civil vessel and the pleasure boat.
The Spanish media reports, citing unnamed Guardia Civil sources, claimed the Spanish law enforcement boat came into contact with the Royal Navy vessel.
According to Europa Sur, the first to report on the incident, Spanish sources claimed the Royal Navy manoeuvres had endangered the crews involved.
But a spokesman for The Convent - the Office of the Governor - said the incident, such as it was, was less dramatic than the Spanish media reports suggested, adding that there was no collision.
According to the British version of events, the incident unfolded after a Guardia Civil RHIB drifted into British Gibraltar territorial waters in the Bay of Gibraltar last Friday evening.
“As with all entries into BGTW by Spanish state vessels, the Guardia Civil RHIB was challenged and asked to state its intentions but failed to respond,” the spokesman said.
“A Royal Navy RHIB and [the Customs vessel] HMC Seeker attended the scene.”
It was at this time that a small pleasure boat approached the area heading west through British waters.
“The Royal Navy RHIB and HMC Seeker escorted the pleasure craft out of BGTW to prevent the Guardia Civil RHIB from boarding it,” the spokesman for The Convent added.
“The escort ceased as the pleasure craft entered Spanish territorial waters, where it was stopped by the Guardia Civil RHIB but then allowed to proceed.”
“There was no collision or physical contact between the Royal Navy and Guardia Civil vessels.”
“This incident will be protested to the Spanish authorities.”
While the incident, according to the British version of events, appears to be relatively minor, the timing is awkward and comes just days before officials from the UK, Gibraltar and Spain are due to meet in San Roque and on the Rock to discuss cooperation across a range of areas including law enforcement.
The meetings are the latest discussions of the committees formed when Gibraltar withdrawal from the European Union to oversee various Memorandums of Understanding agreed at the time.
The Committee for Police and Customs Cooperation and that the Committee on the Environment will meet in San Roque on Wednesday, while the Committee on Citizens’ Rights will meet in Gibraltar on Thursday.
The MoUs on law enforcement cooperation and the environment lapsed on December 31 when the transition period ended but were extended in July through to the end of the year pending the outcome of talks for a UK/EU treaty on the Rock’s post-Brexit relationship with the bloc.
“The committees will continue to examine matters related to the UK and Gibraltar’s departure from the EU that are within the scope of the MoUs in their respective areas,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement on the meetings.
“These meetings should not be confused with the coming negotiations on the future relationship which are a separate and different workstream.”
The Committees last met in Gibraltar in July and October last year.