18 Feb, 2019
With Brexit looming, Spain has ramped up its claims to Gibraltar. Its patrol boat ordered British vessels anchored there to abandon the enclave, forcing the Royal Navy to send an inflatable vessel to defuse the situation.
In an audio recording from Sunday that has been made public, a Spanish patrol ship, Tornado, tells two British vessels, the Ivor Accord and the Great Victory to “leave Spanish territorial waters.”
Confused, the radio operator of one of the British ships, stationed on the east side of the Rock, tells the Spanish navy boat “we are at anchor now” and asking “to verify you are referring to our ship” before being told a second time to vacate Spanish territory.
The port authority told the commercial vessels to ignore the orders and stay put.
“The Royal Navy deployed a launch and a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to the scene,” said a statement from the government of Gibraltar.
“After being challenged by the Royal Navy, the Spanish warship sailed slowly along the Gibraltar coast with its weapons uncovered and manned.”
A spokesman for the Gibraltar government said the provocation “flouted international law” and highlighted “the extremism of some parts of the Spanish political spectrum.”
“There is only nuisance value to these foolish games being played by those who don’t accept unimpeachable British sovereignty over the waters around Gibraltar as recognised by the whole world in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the spokesman said.
Spanish military sources told the local media that the 94-meter military vessel did not violate any rules, insisting that all waters around the Rock, located at the southern tip of Iberia, belong to Spain.
Gibraltar was ceded by Spain to Great Britain in 1713, and has remained under its control ever-since, despite several attempts to recapture it. The majority of the 30,000 residents of the prosperous territory speak English.
Spain, which has increasingly disputed its status, has made the enclave a major negotiating obstacle during the Brexit talks. In the latest draft of the UK visa-free travel agreement that will come into force once Britain leaves the European Union, the territory is referred to as a British “colony” that is “subject to decolonisation.”
Late last year, the UN urged the two European states to find a “definitive solution” for the stand-off but London believes there is nothing to discuss, and has repeatedly cited a 2002 referendum in which 99 percent of local residents expressed desire to remain subjects of Queen Elizabeth II.