In what seems to be a rather amateurish attempt to assert control over UK Sovereign territory, a Spanish naval vessel issued orders to several commercial ships to leave “Spanish territorial waters” when they were in fact anchored within the Gib Port Authority’s area. The instructions to leave were questioned by at least one vessel which pointed out that they were anchored at Gibraltar and were not in Spanish waters.
The Spanish ship seemed to have been trying to reinforce its order by having some of its lighter guns manned – though reports that all of its weapons were ready do not stack up after viewing photographs of the incident; the forward main gun is still trained dead-ahead.
In response, the Royal Navy deployed a launch and a RIB, both able to get to he scene quite quickly, whilst keeping the whole incident as low-profile as possible. As some point out, it might have been an errant and anti-Brit commander trying it on, or simply a drill that got slightly out of hand. Others suggest the reasons are potentially more serious and that the Spanish government has to be seen to be challenging the UK’s rights on a continuous basis if their long-term claim to the Rock is ever to stand a chance of being heard in an international court – let alone as part of the Brexit negotiations.
The merchant vessels were told to stay put by the Port Authorities and the Spanish ship sailed on along the coast, perhaps tying to fix its loud-hailing system. Comments from Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar were fairly unequivocal:
“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. It seems there are still some in the Spanish navy who think they can flout international law.”