Spanish ship ‘looking for oil slick’ intercepted in Gibraltar waters

The crew was told to leave Gibraltarian waters – but soon returned.

Gibraltar’s deputy chief minister says lives are being put at risk and Spain’s actions are what you would expect from an enemy.

A Spanish ship has made an illegal incursion into British waters off the coast of Gibraltar.

Maritime customs officials sped towards the vessel after it was picked up on their radar on Tuesday, barely a minute after their patrol began.

The ship was found just 200m away from Gibraltar’s eastern coast, well inside the three-mile territorial boundaries.

Despite being ordered away, the crew sailed back through Gibraltar’s waters only half an hour later.

They said they were looking for an oil slick and had permission to be there, but this was disputed.

Sky News was on patrol with the maritime customs team when the incident happened, and witnessed first-hand the ongoing dispute between Britain and Spain over the waters surrounding Gibraltar.

Incursions are a regular occurrence but they are illegal and against international law.

Customs officials are on daily patrol for rogue vessels.

The latest breach happened on the eve of a state visit to London by King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain, and MPs have called for the situation to be raised during their time in the UK.

David Sanchez, a Gibraltar customs official, said: “I would say it’s a daily occurrence.”

According to Gibraltarian government records, there have been 711 incursions this year by Spanish military or paramilitary vessels.

The vessel, which was picked up on radar, said it was looking for an oil slick.

Two weeks ago, the Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Scimitar almost collided with a Spanish naval ship.

Last year, another Royal Navy boat had to fire a flare across the bow of a Guardia Civil launch that sailed straight for a US nuclear submarine as she was being escorted into Gibraltar.

Gibraltar’s deputy chief minister told Sky News he believes the dispute is putting lives at risk.

“The kind of behaviour we see from Spain in the waters around Gibraltar is not the kind of behaviour we expect from a NATO ally,” Joseph Garcia said.

‘The Rock’ – on the southern tip of Spain – is just 2.6 square miles. AFP PHOTO / MARCOS MORENO (Photo credit should read MARCOS MORENO/AFP/Getty Images)

“In fact, it is the kind of behaviour you would expect from an enemy of NATO.”

The incursions are not a new phenomenon, although they have been on the increase in recent years.

Gibraltarians believe the British government plays them down to avoid straining relations with Madrid.

The two Royal Navy patrol vessels are due for replacement. They have been in service since the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Sky News understands they will be upgraded for newer boats, but Gibraltar’s government believes more are needed to send a message to Spain and to safely patrol their waters.

Original article: By Alastair Bunkall, Defence Correspondent, Sky News.

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