Gibraltar urges firm hand against Spanish boat incursions

8th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Incursions by Spanish boats into British territorial waters around Gibraltar must be promptly challenged, the British governor of the contested territory on the southern tip of Spain said Tuesday.

During an interview with Gibraltar radio, Sir Adrian Johns said Spanish vessels that enter the territorial waters of Gibraltar need to be "challenged on the spot, firmly but courteously."

"There is potential here for misunderstanding and miscalculation. What we all need to do is to get a better line of communication and perhaps even some form of protocol for operating in and around all the waters here, so that people understand what each other is doing and what our business is."

His comments follow a series of cat and mouse games involving British and Spanish boats in the waters off the tiny British possession at the strategic western entrance to the Mediterranean.

In a serious incident last week, a British Royal Navy patrol boat cautioned a Spanish police boat to leave British territorial waters. It then escorted the Spanish boat out of the waters claimed by Britain.

"The Spanish vessel undertook some pretty aggressive manoeuvres, narrowly missing a small boat in the area," a British military spokesman said.

But according to a report published in the centre-right Spanish newspaper El Mundo about the same incident, the Spanish police boat was "harassed by three British vessels."

A British government official in Gibraltar said Tuesday that London protests to Spain via the British embassy in Madrid whenever there is an incursion of British waters by a Spanish vessel.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has retained a constitutional claim should Britain renounce sovereignty.

Britain claims a strip measuring 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 British territory, apart from the territory's ports.

Gibraltar has long fuelled tensions between Spain and Britain, with Madrid arguing the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) territory that is home to roughly 30,000 people should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.

Now a haven for tourism, shipping and offshore banking because of its favourable tax laws, its people overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a referendum in 2002.

© 2010 AFP

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