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UK ‘strongly condemns’ incursion after Spanish Navy vessel disrupts live firing exercise in BGTW

Photo by Michael Sanchez

The UK Government has “strongly condemned” the actions of a Spanish Navy patrol boat that sailed through British waters on Tuesday and disrupted a Royal Navy live firing exercise, conducting “unsafe manoeuvres” that could have put other vessels at risk.

The incident happened off the east side of the Rock during a routine training exercise that had been publicly announced days earlier through a Notice to Mariners in line with international shipping rules.

Even before it took place, Spanish media and the PP senator and mayor of Algeciras, Jose Ignacio Landaluce, had put a spotlight on the exercise and described it as a provocation, calling for a reaction from the Spanish Government.

On Tuesday afternoon, as if on cue, the Spanish Navy patrol boat P38 entered British Gibraltar territorial waters “…in a manner not consistent with the Right of Innocent Passage as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” a spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office told the Chronicle.

The vessel was shadowed and escorted out of British waters by the Gibraltar Squadron’s HMS Cutlass.

But the presence of the Spanish vessel created a potentially dangerous situation, according to the FCDO.

“Whilst within BGTW, P83 conducted a number of unsafe manoeuvres which could have endangered other vessels,” the FCDO spokesperson said.

“The UK strongly condemns these actions and will protest this incident to the Spanish Government in Madrid.”

The UK closely monitors all incursions into BGTW and responds to them on a case-by-case basis through diplomatic protests to Spain.

While they are a violation of British sovereignty, the FCDO says they are not a threat to it.

“We have no doubt about the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar, its territorial waters and airspace,” the spokesperson said.

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

The incursion came just a day after Spain used its annual intervention at the UN Fourth Committee in New York to reiterate its traditional position on Gibraltar and its sovereignty, including of the waters and airspace around the Rock and the “illegally occupied” isthmus.

Ana Jimenez de la Hoz, Spain’s deputy permanent representative at the UN, said the Spanish Government refuted the UK’s claim over the waters around the Rock.

“Spain continues to exercise its sovereignty on a daily basis given these are Spanish waters and Spanish airspace,” she told the UN committee.

Ms Jimenez de la Hoz repeated Spain’s call for dialogue with the UK over Gibraltar’s sovereignty, insisting Gibraltarians did not have the right to self-determination and that decolonisation must be on the basis of restoring Spain’s territorial integrity.

The message was refuted by a UK diplomat at the UN, who said the people of Gibraltar enjoy the right to self-determination.

“The 2006 Gibraltar Constitution, which was endorsed in referendum by the people of Gibraltar, provides for a modern and mature relationship between Gibraltar in the UK,” she told the Fourth Committee.

“The United Kingdom refutes the allegations that the UK illegally occupied the isthmus and the surrounding waters under international law. Territorial waters flow from sovereignty over the land.”

Despite a forceful exposition of the traditional Spanish position, Ms Jimenez de la Hoz also referred to the ongoing treaty negotiations for a UK/EU agreement on Gibraltar, adding Brexit had created “a window of opportunity to try to resolve many of the problems arising from this colonial situation”.

“We believe that there are opportunities for prosperity that could be created in the zone if we are able to agree an equitable framework,” she said.

“The ultimate objective of this agreement is the creation of an area of shared prosperity.”

Due to next week’s general election, the Gibraltar Government did not address the Fourth Committee this week as it would normally have done.

The committee’s Chair and Bureau agreed to Gibraltar’s request to postpone Gibraltar’s intervention until after the results of the vote on October 12, with a new date is expected to be set soon after.

The Alliance and the GSD have both said they would continue to address the UN if elected into government.

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