Spanish SVA boards port tender vessel inside Gibraltar waters

Officers from a Spanish SVA vessel boarded a port tender vessel last night, within Gibraltar waters, and restrained a member of its crew.

This followed a chase which also took place within Gibraltar waters.

Gibraltar customs officers, and then the Defence Police, also boarded the vessel to assist its crew. After half an hour, the SVA officers withdrew.

The Gibraltar Government has condemned the incident, describing it as 'illegal executive action'

The UK Government will be making a formal protest to Madrid.

The incident kicked off at around 10.30 at night.

The "Ultimate Predator", a UK flagged vessel which has been assisting the Port in the oil spill clean up in recent days, had been travelling without navigational lights and without its Automatic Identification System flagging its location, arousing Customs suspicion.

However, Customs says it's satisfied that the vessel crew were carrying out a legitimate crew transfer, and that its systems had malfunctioned.

But the Spanish Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera vessel 'Aguila 2' chased the 'Ultimate Predator',.The UK vessel was boarded by crew from the SVA vessel, and One of the crew of Ultimate Predator was physically restrained by an SVA officer.

Gibraltar Customs also boarded the Ultimate Predator vessel, and a discussion began.

After half an hour, the SVA officers withdrew, and the Aguila 2 left Gibraltar waters.

There were no reports of injuries or rubber bullets being fired during the incident.

Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, says the Spanish crew's actions are illegal and unacceptable. He says the Spanish officers in question have potentially committed offences against Gibraltar law and he has asked that the matter must be forcefully raised with Spain.

Mr Picardo says he wants cooperation and coordination, especially in the fight against crime, but that cannot be ushered in by illegal actions with officers out of their jurisdiction

He says these actions damage cooperation between law enforcement colleagues, as well as creating even deeper suspicion in the wider population about the attitude of some sectors of Spanish law enforcement to Gibraltar.

The Spanish perspective:-

The Government of Gibraltar has labeled as "outrageous" the statements made by the Mayor of Algeciras and Senator, José Ignacio Landaluce, regarding Spanish sovereignty over the waters surrounding the Rock.

The Gibraltar Government had deemed the actions of the fast patrol vessel Águila 2, from the Customs Surveillance Service (SVA), as "illegal". This vessel pursued and boarded an auxiliary ship from the Gibraltar port that raised suspicions due to navigating in the Bay without lights and with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned off. The Gibraltar Government claims this occurred in "British territorial waters of Gibraltar". In response, Landaluce stated, "Spanish waters are Spanish and not Gibraltar's. Despite the Admiralty having marked them as theirs on nautical charts, they were never ceded, were never included in the Treaty of Utrecht, and Spain will never recognise anything other than them being Spanish waters. They are not disputed; they clearly belong to Spain."

Now, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo responds: "Mr. Landaluce's statements to the Spanish media are, frankly, as erroneous as they are outrageous. The waters surrounding Gibraltar are exclusively British. This is not only established in Gibraltar's law but also in Public International Law, namely the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. If he wishes, I will be happy to send Mr. Landaluce a copy of the Convention and guide him through it. I will also be happy to explain the lack of effect of Spain's reservation concerning the application of the Convention."

"Furthermore, I would like to remind Mr. Landaluce that Spain's former ambassador to the United Nations (between 2000 and 2004), Inocencio Arias (who was appointed to the position by the Popular Party), stated - in a personal capacity, not as an official government position - that Gibraltar had territorial waters, despite Spain's long-standing claim to the contrary. This was a significant departure from Spain's official stance as it has long maintained that the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), which ceded Gibraltar to Great Britain, did not include the surrounding waters. Mr. Landaluce should bear this in mind when making statements as fallacious as those from this Wednesday," added Picardo.

"The SVA vessel Águila 2 entered British territorial waters of Gibraltar and took executive action without notifying any Gibraltar authorities. This is entirely unacceptable, and that's why I've asked the UK Government to strongly address this with Spain," concludes Picardo.

"Today's statements in the Spanish media actually quote SVA officers referring to a 'sailing ship,' which shows they are inventing their version of events. The vessel in question is a sailing auxiliary boat! This demonstrates that the SVA officers' version of events is entirely unreliable, and Mr. Landaluce should pay more attention to the information released by Gibraltar and not the false version of events being spread in Spain," continues Picardo.

"Mr. Landaluce knows that Gibraltar's waters are British, but he refuses to accept it. Mr. Landaluce's obsession with Gibraltar is unhealthy and does not contribute to building the cooperative and prosperous relationship that the Gibraltar Government would like to see realised, particularly in the context of our negotiations with the EU and with Spain," he states.

"I would kindly tell Mr. Landaluce that his attitude has hindered cooperation from flourishing before. If he hasn't yet learned that Gibraltarians do not react to harassment, especially when a Spanish politician tells them what to do, he better take his head out of the sand where it has been buried for the last twelve years," he concludes.