Spain has sent a survey ship into Gibraltar’s territorial waters amid continuing tension with the UK government over the sovereignty of the breakaway island nation.
The Ramon Margalef, a 50-meter oceanographic survey ship defied repeated orders from British Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Sabre to leave Gibraltar’s territorial waters, risking a serious diplomatic provocation, The Daily Telegraph reported.
According to the report the ship entered British Gibraltar Territorial Waters around 5 pm on Monday and was still there Tuesday afternoon irrespective of repeated demands by the Royal Navy to leave.
“We are in the unpleasant situation of a stand-off,” a source from Gibraltar’s authorities told The Daily Telegraph. “This is an incursion of the worst kind and the most serious incident since August.”
The captain of the Spanish vessel was overheard through radio exchanges insisting that he was there with the permission of the Spanish government to carry out survey work, the report said.
“We are carrying out oceanographic works which are in the interest of the European Community. We will continue with our work,” said the defiant Spanish captain in response to orders to leave by the Royal Navy.
The British captain was heard over the radio ordering the Spanish vessel repeatedly to leave the area but to no avail.
“You are violating the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) governing the right to innocent passage,” the British captain kept saying. “You are to cease your current actions and leave British Gibraltar Territorial Waters immediately.”
The Gibraltar government said it has informed London of the incident and expected a formal protest to Madrid to follow.
Gibraltar is one of the British Overseas Territories, which is on the United Nations list of areas waiting decolonization.
The British territory was seized from Spain in 1713 and remains a bone of contention between the two European countries.
Tensions between Spain and Britain arose in mid-July after authorities in Gibraltar dumped 70 blocks of concrete in waters close the territory’s coast, aimed at creating an artificial reef.
But, Spain denounced the action as “an environmental crime,” saying the blocks have made it impossible for Spanish fishing boats to work in the area.
In response, Madrid imposed strict border controls on vehicles coming to or leaving the so-called Rock, creating long queues for workers and tourists entering Gibraltar.
Amid an escalation of the issue, the European Commission intervened and ruled that it has found no evidence proving Spain’s violation of European Union’s laws by imposing tighter border and custom checks at its crossing point with British territory of Gibraltar.
The EU executive body added that it had based its findings on information given by both Britain and Spain and on its observations during a technical visit on September 25.
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