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.
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?