A Royal Navy ship has fired warning flares at a Spanish Guardia Civil patrol boat off the coast of Gibraltar. The boat was in Gibraltar’s territorial waters, and was approaching a US nuclear submarine at the time.
According to Gibraltar, incursions by Spanish vessels into the the British Overseas Territory’s waters are not uncommon. Vessels regularly travel far into Gibraltar’s sea territory, officials say. This has resulted in a number of disagreements, and the Foreign Office has called the habit of Spanish vessels entering Gibraltar’s waters provocative. It is, however, rare for warning flares to be fired by the Royal Navy as a result.
The vessel was not just in waters belonging to Gibraltar when the Royal Navy fired warning shots across its bow, but was also harassing a US nuclear submarine which was visiting the British naval base there. The Spanish boat was reportedly approaching the USS Florida at close quarters, and twice tried to cut across its path.
Describing the situation, one Royal Navy source said that the Spanish patrol boat “just got too close” to the American submarine. The source added, “When it’s a nuclear submarine, you get twitchy anyway. If you have responsibility for the protection of it, then you are going to take action much quicker than you might normally.”
The warning shots apparently proved effective, and the Spanish boat withdrew.
Gibraltar, at the very end of the Iberian peninsula, has been under British control since 1713, when Britain gained took over the territory as a result of the Treaty of Utrecht. Spain maintains that Britain could easily hand over sovereignty of Gibralter, but the 1969 Gibraltar constitution states that Britain will not do so against the “free and democratically expressed” wishes of the people of Gibraltar.
As such, relationships between the two countries remain tense on this matter. A military presence is maintained by the UK in Gibraltar, operating with the kind of advanced command and control systems provided by companies like http://www.c4isystems.com/ which monitor the situation and coordinate responses.
As well as sending vessels into Gibraltar’s waters, Spain has threatened to introduce new border taxes, to investigate Gibraltarian financial interests in Spain, and to close its airspace to British planes that are heading to Gibraltar’s airport.