Gibraltar territorial waters – ‘leave!’

It’s like the cod wars revisited. [Cod wars not Cold War].

That’s for anyone who remembers the dispute between the UK and Iceland over cod fishing rights. Why anyone would fight over tasteless cod is beyond me, but there is no accounting for taste. Haddock wars I could have understood but cod?

So, the territorial waters dispute.

The short version is that, Spain, along with claiming Gibraltar, also claims the waters around it. The UK Gibraltar territorial waters no less.

Now, at this point you have to remember that although Gibraltar runs its own day-to-day business quite merrily, in matters of foreign policy and defence, the UK is in charge.

A little history – Gibraltar was taken by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704. It was formally ceded to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. For ever. Spain looks for nice little loopholes that say we are not sticking to a 300-year-old treaty and so therefore it should go back to Spain.

One could point out that Spain didn’t exactly stick to the treaty back in the 18th century when it tried – and failed miserably – to invade on three separate occasions.

Now the treaty specified:

the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts thereunto belonging … for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.

It didn’t specify territorial waters. Probably because they hadn’t been fully developed as a legal concept by then.

So, onto the territorial waters dispute.

During the first part of the 18th century (and I thought it was recent!) the three mile limit came into practice. The UN changed this to 12 nautical miles (22km) which came into force in 1995. States are entitled, but not compelled, to extend their limit. If there is a nearby country, then they split the difference, technically called a median line.

Who owns this water? Spain, Morocco, or Gib/UK?

Neither the Gib nor the UK govt have said there is any need to extend the current three-mile limit around Gib.

Have a look at the map on this site here about the fishing limits which graphically illustrates the position. Note the HUGE Spanish territorial waters around Ceuta.

So what’s the issue? Well, every now and again, the Spanish like to invade enter Gib/UK territorial waters.

When Sofia stamped her sulky royal foot about not going to Liz’s party because Brit royals shouldn’t be visiting a Brit Overseas Territory, the other reason was because there was a territorial waters dispute ongoing. Well, it’s always going on, but the seas were turning a bit choppy.

A couple of extracts from govt press releases to add the context:

The fact is that after the 1999 agreement, Spanish commercial fishing vessels continued to fish with impunity in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters using methods which were against the law.

and the latest fishing situation from a release last month:

The Chief Minister held a two hour meeting this morning with representatives of Spanish fishermen and councillors from La Linea and Algeciras.

The meeting was conducted in a friendly and constructive atmosphere with both sides making a positive commitment to dialogue as opposed to confrontation.

The Chief Minister explained government policy that the 1999 understanding, between the Spanish fishermen and the previous administration, contravened the laws of Gibraltar and the new GSLP/Liberal administration had already spelt out its views on the subject in its general election manifesto. The Chief Minister also made it clear that the application and enforcement of the law was a matter for the Royal Gibraltar Police.

A lengthy discussion took place on the fishing practices that were allowed by the law and those that were not. The meeting explored a number of potential solutions which included the registration and licensing of fishing boats which use legal methods in the context of the need to continue to protect Gibraltar’s marine environment.

which sounds over-conciliatory to me, but there you go, I’m not the Chief Minister. And it obviously met with no joy because we have a later incident last week.

But first (as I’m doing this chronologically) we have this one:

two large RIBs (which were suspected of being prohibited imports) came round Europa Point towards the Bay and, as they passed, both the RGP and SVA (Spanish customs) commenced a chase. Although RGP Officers repeatedly ordered the occupant of one of the RIBs to stop because he was within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, they were ignored and obeyed signals from the SVA vessel to go towards them.

As the vessels came alongside, RGP officers successfully managed to tie up one of the RIBs. Two SVA Officers then jumped on board the vessel while another freed the RIB by cutting the RGP line. The RGP vessel also came alongside and RGP Officers boarded to effect the arrest.

At this point, one of the SVA vessels started moving off with two RGP Officers on board.

An argument ensued and one of the three occupants in the second suspect vessel boarded the stopped RIB to try and assist. The RGP Officers on board the suspect RIB drew batons, fearing for their safety. The SVA vessel then started to move towards Algeciras and the RGP Officers returned to the RGP vessel.

Gibraltar Defence Police (GDP) RIBs also arrived to assist the RGP crew but, when the SVA Officers saw this, they released the detained RIB and ordered both suspect vessels to head towards Algeciras. The RGP vessel lost use of an engine, was unable to chase and, despite efforts by the GDP, the Spanish vessel got away. All Gibraltar based boats rendezvoused when the incident was over. The RGP has established that the main incident occurred within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.

Great co-operation huh for chasing drug smugglers?

But the latest was this one. (Full article over at The Gib Chron).

Six fishing boats from Algeciras decided to come and fish in Gib waters. Spain has said it will use Guardia Civil boats to protect any fishing in our territorial waters but the boats were unaccompanied.

Our boys (and maybe girls) were fast on the scene. A launch from the Gib Defence Police, a boat from the Marine Section of the Royal Gib Police, and a RIB from the RN.

It was all nicey, nicey, and the Spaniards were told they would be breaking Gib law if they fished.

A bit later on, the Guardia Civil turned up. The fishing boats were urged to return to port and off they went.

Whereupon the RN informed the Guardia Civil to clear off:

“This is Gibraltar Navy Ops,” the officer said over the VHF radio.

“You are in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and I consider you to be violating UNCLOS Article 19 governing the right of innocent passage.”

“Your activities are being recorded and are being reported to a higher national authority.”

“You are to cease your current actions and leave British Gibraltar Territorial Waters immediately.”

There are things to be doing on a Thursday night, and sitting at sea, not fishing is not the one I would choose. And what is the value, if not making a political point and trying to push the UK and Gib?

In fact, as Sofia didn’t have to go to the UK for the party, she could have shared out the saved costs from the royal purse and given that to the fishermen to make up for their lack of a catch in Gib waters.

Thank goodness for our gallant RN. Gib wouldn’t be here without the Royal Navy.

And who would think Gibraltar was such an exciting place?

Always good to see the odd grey ship in the naval dockyard

63 comments on “Gibraltar territorial waters – ‘leave!’

  1. Thanks for the watery update. (Isn’t there always a lot of foot stomping in Spain? Oh, that’s flamenco, not politics….sorry – they are both so fiery….)
    Will we be surprised if someday the fish/large sea mammals get organized and claim all right to the sea themselves? (Maybe the navy shouldn’t be teaching dolphins how to plant mines on ships and things….)
    As always enjoyed the post – your background/history helps put it in perspective


    • Just splurted over the keyboard at that foot stomping comment. Well if I hadn’t done a rapid flamenco movement and put my hand in front of my mouth. Too funny.

      Being vegetarian these fishing disputes leave me cold as a (dead) fish.

      Dolphins. Beautiful, clever, elegant. We can’t compare with them.

      Territorial waters is/are a continual issue. It’s an important one. I wanted to make it (relatively) simple, but add the history and some current day events. We may be a tiny place but I don’t think we should be intimidated by our larger neighbour to the north of us. And thanks.


  2. Wowzer … who would have known! All this for the cod [love cod :) ]. Something similar is going on between Canada and Denmark (!) …Greenland, being Danish. It’s about fish.

    The only naval ship I’ve been aboard was HMS Intrepid, and she’s no longer in service.

    Are the monkeys still alive and kickin’ ?


    • No!! Can’t believe it is still going on up in the far north. The cod wars between UK and Iceland were originally partly a Danish issue to my surprise. I didn’t realise how long the UK/Icelandic dispute had been going on.

      Actually, I don’t know what they fish here, but it won’t be cod, too warm.

      I need to write a generic fishing wars post now!!!

      I went on Ark Royal a couple of years back, and one of those launch things I wrote about.

      Yeah, the monkeys are pretty cool although not seen any down Main Street recently. Probably getting too warm for them to make the trip down the Rock.


  3. I think there is a lot of over excitement this year, 30 years since The Falklands, the diamond jubilee celebrating the empire commonwealth and the UK hosting the Olympics; hopefully it’ll all settle down by the year end. This all of course coupled with near bankruptcy in Argentina and Spain.

    Fishing will most likely always be a problem. As you rightly remind us, UK and Iceland had gun boats at dawn over fishing rights, and the whole EU fisheries policy is nearly as much of a mess as the agricultural policy is.

    Once that nice shiny new ship, Deadaulus or something like that, is back from The Falklands tour of duty, perhaps it could spend sometime crusing round the Gib territorial waters, think that might keep the Spanish quiet.

    Hopefully the UK will never have another labour government. I knew Straw when he was President of the National Union of students and was disgusted that he turned into the weasel he is, offering to trade Gibraltar sovereignty for Spanish troops in his illegal war.


    • I’d forgotten JS and the NUS. But when he was doing the dirty Gib deals I’d left the UK.

      Ironic that the Gib Labour Party are more pro Britain than the GSD. One of the reasons we support them. Caruana’s Andorra solution (to a non-existent problem) was a big no.

      Your first par is spot on. Interestingly one of our ministers is visiting the Falklands for the anniversary! But who would want the UK to be remotely important these days. Just a bit player.

      Quite interested in the fishing stuff. One war the British lost. Maybe a blog post….


    • It would be great if Gibs close the border not to open it anymore! But no, Gibs are Andalusians with Brit passport, enjoying the social services in Spain (much better than in the UK), living in Andalusia, shopping in the Spanish supermarkets… Gibs’ life is better as they are right now, Andalusians with British passport!


      • Gibraltarians are not Andalucians with a British passport. Gibraltarian heritage is mixed as I’m sure you will know.

        Social services or unemployment benefit? Not the same thing. Granted UB in Spain is vastly superior to both Gib and the UK. It might also partly account for the appalling state of the Spanish economy.

        We also know plenty of Gibraltarians who have never left Gibraltar in their life, and others who choose to fly to the UK rather than visit Spain.

        Happy to have a sensible discussion but I won’t be responding to any more asinine commentts.


  4. my most favourite image was a mental one which actually got me giggling – and it was your reply about splurting over the keyboard. just as well i had already finished drinking my coffee :)
    and for the record, i was laughing with you, not at you :D


  5. Like you I prefer Haddock, (Haddock Wars sound more like a television series) RN is great to have around, but what would it take to honour agreements or even talk out new ones due to world climate etc. Playing cat and mouse, I suppose keep people in work. Sofia did not want to mix the murderous other royals, that our Royalty seemed fit to entertain. Human rights does not figure in some.I do not make out that I fully understand all the goings on etc but I am gradually learning more about another part of the UK, by reading and enjoying, if that is the right thing to say, your posts. Thank you.


    • Thanks L. I try and write about what happens locally, and if relevant, add a personal view, and usually with some other sources.

      Funnily someone wrote ages ago on my old blog that they learned more Spanish on my blog than in one term (semester I think you say). LOL. I never wanted to be a teacher. But I do like to share information…..

      I haven’t written about the puente change. I did read about it ages ago. Thanks for reminding me as we have a looooong weekend coming up, will make a post if I remember.


  6. Interesting post, and makes me give more weight to an article I read a few days ago saying water rights will become the most contentious world issue. It seems like the stuff of sci fi but as you posted it’s already happening. Scary.


    • These water rights are totally political and territorial. Although interestingly Gib has no natural water. We used to have run-off catchments but we now have a desalination plant. I did a post ages back elsewhere, I may be able to retrieve it (yet another blog!). Have you seen Quantum of Solace? (James Bond) about water rights? Says it all.


  7. Yes, I remember the cod wars. The BBC showing stirring footage of our brave Jack tars cutting the nets of trawlers, we told those troublesome Icelanders what for.

    Territorial waters, always problematic things, can’t draw a line on the ocean. Remember the Falklands 20 miles becomes 200 miles exclusion zone, happily coinciding with the oil deposits I seem to remember. :0


  8. I don’t know if there was another incident last night (wed 23 may) but its on the BBC News website which says:
    “Several Royal Gibraltar Police boats surrounded three Spanish fishing vessels on Wednesday night after they cast their nets near Gibraltar harbour, media reports say.”

    Seems the UK minister for Europe has been talking to Captain Picard, mainly reassurance that the tory stance on Gib hasn’t changed, but I think the RN vessel might be out and about a bit more. Apparently, it shooed off the Spanish Guardia Civil vessels.


    • Yes, there was another incident, which included a Guardia Civil helichopter too. Could have been another one last night too, I haven’t looked yet. Given that Picardo and the La Linea mayor Gemma something have agreed a working party, I think it’s pretty bad style continuing to insist on this intrusion especially with the GC escort.


  9. Thanks for more insight into your interesting spot on The Planet. I worked in Iceland in my 20’s for a few years and remember some of the folk talking about the Cod Wars. Didn’t pay much attention at the time but am now motivated to do a dab of research! At the rate the ocean is being fished out it will be interesting to see what happens next with this type of drama.


  10. I never realised there was so much unrest between Gib and Spain.
    As for cod, T and I were only talking about it today, we both agreed, give us haddock any day.


    • Neither did I until I came to live here! You would think considering it isn’t that far away from the insular UK, and that Gib happens to be a British Overseas Territory that it would receive a bit more news coverage. Hmm, a column for a Tory newspaper perhaps?????

      Don’t know about where you lived, but haddock was the norm for our fish and chips, if you wanted cod you had to specify it. Whereas I think down south you ask for fish and chips and you get cod, if you want haddock you have to ask for haddock and chips.

      Not that I know anything as I don’t think I have ever eaten them DS because they can’t cook them properly :D Another silly Yks tale, my parents were convinced that the fish and chips inland in the West Riding was better than on the coast! Who knows? Harry Ramsden certainly did all right out of it. Best sit down one we went to (quite often) was near Morley called Tingley Bar Fishery or something. One or two specials or doubles, mushy peas, bread and butter – divine!


      • Spot on with the north south divide. I don’t eat fish & chips here, only when in Yorkshire.
        Haddock was always the norm where I lived too, my dad wouldn’t even contemplate cod in his chippy, so his customers never got the choice.
        Harry Ramsdens! Now there’s a memory for me. Years before he expanded to a chain of shops, in fact even before he had a sit down, when it was just a standard take away, we’d call in on our way home, after a day on the moors. Fish chips and mushy peas, all round, my dad would then drive to a local pub, get some drinks, and we’d sit on the pub car park and devour the lot.
        Oh, sorry, I’ve digressed a bit there from your original post.


    • Thanks alessandro. It is totally bizarre to me. As you say, it is more than 300 years, and the Spanish government keeps finding more and more fatuous reasons to claim Gib!! Local Spaniards do NOT want Gib to be Spanish, and we all get on perfectly well together. This is one political dispute, that quite frankly (or even franco-ishly) should not be happening.


    • It’s bad enough Spain pursuing a 300 year-old claim that they legally renounced back then. But what on earth are they doing over your way? Do they think all Rocks connected to The Treaty of Utrecht are theirs?


      • The Basque, Spain, Portugal, France and England have been fighting about our lovely land since at least 1500. Cabot supposedly ‘discovered’ the place in 1497 but, in truth, the fishery was likely prosecuted on the sly for longer than that. We have archaeological evidence of a thriving Basque whale fishery on the strait between Newfoundland and Labrador from 1504 but the Basque, ,being generally secretive about such a lucrative fishery it’s likely the operation predates that by a lot. Traditionally the countries noted above have fishes the Grand Banks. Things got ugly when Canada declared a 200 mile limit in the ’70s and they have not gotten much better since. Interesting to note that, as I write this, Canada is finalizing a trade deal with the EU that does include agreements around fish processing. We here in NL are a little annoyed right now as there are allegations that the Fed has been applying pressure on our province through another medium so that they can get some leniency from us on that EU deal. In other words, we lose out on some of our fishery interests so the EU can get some of it :>(


        • Now why anyone would fight over such a chilly desolate place is beyond me, but why would anyone fight over the Falklands? It’s not the territory at all, is it? but what goes with it.

          I don’t get why Europeans are fishing in Canadian waters. Maybe I do. Possibly they have outfished their own. In which case I suggest they stop doing that, eat less fish and leave Canadian waters to Canadians. Globalisation is a terrible thing. If raising animals on the ground, for human consumption, is not environmentally sustainable, then fishing seems to be going down the same road. Or the same waters at least.

          A tangent, but a valid one. There isn’t enough food in the world to feed everyone. But there could be.


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