Spain, Gibraltar in new maritime face-off
A new row flared between Spain and Gibraltar after police in the British territory charged Tuesday one of its boats was damaged in a clash with Spanish police vessels that illegally entered its waters.
Spain's government said on Monday it had complained to Britain over the incident on Sunday, while Spain's Civil Guard police force accused their Gibraltar counterparts of behaving like "pirates."
The Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) said in a statement Tuesday that Civil Guard boats were chasing a suspect vessel "outside BGTW," or the territorial waters of the rocky promontory off Spain's southern coast.
But the pursuit entered "BGTW with the Civil Guard intercepting the suspect vessel," it said in a statement.
"The crew, two Spanish nationals, were arrested by the Civil Guard after bales of cannabis resin were found onboard the vessel. No prior notification of the chase had been given to the RGP by the Civil Guard."
The RGP patrol vessel then tried "to assert jurisdiction within BGTW.
"This resulted in a heated exchange between both law enforcement crews, during which both RGP and Civil Guard vessels came into contact with each other. Damage was sustained by the RGP launch."
The Civil Guard's association said on Monday its officers were subjected to "insults and threats" by officers on the Gibraltar police boat which "collided with the Civil Guard boat."
One Civil Guard officer was slightly injured in the incident and one of its boats damaged, Spanish media said.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba described the incident as "particularly serious" and said he regretted that maritime rows "can benefit criminals."
The Spanish foreign ministry said it had made "appropriate representations to the British government through normal diplomatic channels to express its concerns to the United Kingdom and the rejection of the government of Spain over the events that occurred."
It was the latest in a series of face-offs involving the security forces of the two countries in the waters off Gibraltar over the last two years.
Britain claims a strip of three nautical miles (5.5 kilometres) surrounding Gibraltar as its territorial waters. But Spain does not recognise any waters off Gibraltar as belonging to the territory apart from its ports.
The tiny promontory, which Madrid ceded to London in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, has long fuelled tensions between the two countries.
Madrid argues the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) territory that is home to around 30,000 people should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.
But its people overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a referendum in 2002.
Spain's Crown Prince Felipe told Britain's Prince Charles in a speech at an official dinner in Madrid last month that their two countries need to resolve the dispute.
© 2011 AFP