In Brief

Spanish warship orders commercial vessels to leave Gibraltar waters

Royal Navy sends boats to the Rock following threat to ships anchored off UK territory

A Spanish warship with its guns manned ordered commercial ships to leave Gibraltar’s British waters on Sunday, the territory’s government has revealed.

In an audio recording obtained by the Gibraltar Chronicle, the crew aboard the Spanish ship was heard ordering anchored boats to leave “Spanish territorial waters”. The Guardian says that Royal Navy boats were deployed “in response to the incident”, which comes amid rising tension over the strategic port as Brexit approaches.

The Spanish patrol boat “then sailed slowly through Gibraltar waters... and out into the strait, sailing close to the coastline as it did so”, says the Gibraltar Chronicle.

The boats told to leave were ordered to remain by the Gibraltar Port Authority during the run-in, which was branded “foolish” by a spokesperson for the government of the British overseas territory.

“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 spokesperson said. “It seems there are still some in the Spanish navy who think they can flout international law.”

Gibraltar’s status and the status of its 30,000 residents have been gaining attention “as Britain’s exit from the European Union approaches on March 29, raising questions about free movement across its land and sea borders with Spain”, says Reuters.

Spain has already secured a right of veto over whether future Brexit arrangements can apply to Gibraltar. The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says Spain will seek joint sovereignty after Britain leaves the EU.

A statement released by the Gibraltar government said: “The Royal Navy deployed a launch and a rigid-hulled inflatable boat to the scene. After being challenged by the Royal Navy, the Spanish warship sailed slowly along the Gibraltar coast with its weapons uncovered and manned.”

The authorities are verifying the incident to ensure that “appropriate action is taken as soon as possible”, the statement added.

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