The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has presented a diplomatic protest before the United Kingdom Embassy in Madrid for what it describes as “three serious incidents” that occurred throughout the month of August in waters near the Rock of Gibraltar, whose sovereignty Spain claims. In a verbal note dated last Monday, the 28th, and to which EL PAÍS has had access, the department headed by José Manuel Albares in office raises the tone when describing each of these incidents, expressing its “strongest protest” for the actions of United Kingdom State vessels in waters under Spanish jurisdiction and recalls that the position of Spanish diplomacy with respect to the waters of Gibraltar continues to be that established in the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713; that is to say, that the British colony is not recognized with more waters than those inside the port. To questions from this newspaper, the British Embassy in Madrid did not want to make any comment on the foreign protest.
The first incident cited in the note occurred on August 1, when the Panamanian-flagged methane tanker Gas Venus, coming from the Turkish port of Mersin, suffered a fuel spill in Spanish waters adjacent to the Rock. The spill, which the Gibraltarian Captaincy estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 liters of fuel, occurred while the gas carrier was refueling another ship on the high seas, a maneuver known as bunkering. The incident, inside the bay of Algeciras, forced the closure of the port of the British colony for a day and a half and caused tar stains that reached the coast.
The ‘Venus Gas’, with the flag of Panama, anchored in the vicinity of the bay of Algeciras, after the failure to refuel. Government of Gibraltar (EFE)
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalls that the area where the spill occurred is recognized by the European Union as an LIC (Site of Community Importance) Eastern Strait and falls within the Natura 2000 Network, therefore requiring special conservation. The royal decree of 2012 that regulates the protection measures of the Eastern Strait SCI expressly prohibits bunkering due to its potential ecological danger, but the Gibraltarian authorities authorize it in the waters they consider theirs.
The second incident to which the note refers occurred on August 14. On that date, the Colimbo II vessel, of the Customs Surveillance Service (SVA), “was hindered in the development of its work” by three United Kingdom State vessels —specifically, the British customs service and the Royal Navy —, which “created a situation of risk and hindered the proper functions of the Spanish authorities”. The event occurred when an auxiliary ship based in the port of the colony came to take over the crew of a merchant ship on the high seas. However, the Gibraltarian ship was sailing without navigation lights and without the Automatic Navigation System indicating its position, which raised the suspicions of the Spanish patrol boat, which began its pursuit and intercepted it, provoking the protest of the Rock authorities. While the latter denounced the entry of the Spanish patrol boat into their waters, Foreign Affairs considers the intervention of the British ships that tried to prevent the Customs Surveillance Service from doing its job of fighting against smuggling an “unjustifiable interference”.
The last and most recent of the incidents took place on August 21, when the fishing vessel Mi Daniela and its skipper “were harassed by British State vessels again in Spanish waters near the Rock, in clear violation of Spanish sovereignty and acting outside the of its jurisdiction”. The skipper of the fishing boat, based in La Línea de la Concepción (Cádiz), Jonathan Sánchez, denounced that he had been harassed by three boats belonging to the Police and the Gibraltar Customs service and had been charged with nine charges for fishing in front of the east face of the Rock. The Junta de Andalucía, in the hands of the PP, demanded the intervention of Spanish diplomacy.
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subscribeThe skipper Jonathan Sánchez, of the fishing boat ‘MiDaniela’, denounced by the Gibraltar authorities, who is accused of nine crimes for fishing in waters near the Rock that the authorities of said territory attribute as their own.Carrasco Ragel (EFE)
The note verbale from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not only a compilation of the incidents that have occurred in recent weeks in the waters close to the Rock, but above all, as he emphasizes at the end, a reminder that Spain is not willing to accept the doctrine of facts consummated and that its position on the spaces ceded to the United Kingdom in Gibraltar “remains unchanged”. “The Kingdom of Spain does not recognize the United Kingdom other rights and situations regarding the maritime spaces of Gibraltar that are not included in article X of the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713,” the letter concludes. And he adds: “Spain will continue to exercise its sovereignty in Spanish waters in the same way that it has done since time immemorial.” Article X listed the properties ceded to the British Crown (“the city and castle of Gibraltar, together with its port, defenses and fortresses”), which did not include territorial waters.
The dispute over the sovereignty of the waters surrounding the Rock – the United Kingdom claims three miles of jurisdictional waters – has been the reason for continuous incidents between the two countries. One of the most serious took place last February, when Spanish customs surveillance agents landed on a Gibraltar beach chasing a gang of tobacco smugglers, who threw stones at them, to which the former responded with shots into the air.
In recent years, however, London and Madrid have tried to mute these frictions while negotiating an agreement that establishes the new relations between Gibraltar and the EU, once Brexit is consummated, through an arrangement that would mean the demolition of La Verja. Although the negotiations were well advanced, the advance of the general elections in Spain on July 23 and the opening of a period of political interim have forced them to be put on hold. Gibraltar is also awaiting elections due to be held this autumn, which rules out a quick deal.
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