Royal Navy forced to intervene in Gibraltar fishing row

LAST UPDATED: 24 May, 2012 @ 17:29
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Royal Navy forced to intervene in Gibraltar fishing row

By James Bryce

THE Royal Navy has been forced to intervene in the fishing row between Gibraltar and Spain following a tense standoff lasting several hours on Wednesday night.

The military vessel was scrambled to intercept a number of Spanish boats attempting to fish in disputed waters close to the Rock, escorted by the Guardia Civil and a helicopter.

Repeated warnings to leave the area were ignored by the Spaniards, in an incident condemned by the British government as an ‘illegal incursion’.

“We call on all parties to the fishing dispute to show restraint and work towards a swift and peaceful resolution,” a government spokesman said.

“We welcome the constructive approach adopted by the La Linea fishermen and the Government of Gibraltar.”

He added: “The UK protests about all illegal Spanish incursions and will do so in this case.”

Gibraltar’s government slammed officials in Madrid for what it described as a ‘carefully premeditated challenge to our indisputable sovereignty’.

“Those who are orchestrating these dangerous confrontations need to come to their senses and accept the challenge, once and for all, to litigate their claims to our territory in the relevant international tribunals established for that purpose in the 21st century and not put people’s safety and security at risk trying to advance their position out at sea as if in the 18th century,” a statement said.

Spanish environment minister Miguel Arias Canete had earlier come out in support of the Spanish fishermen’s right to fish in Gibraltar waters.

“The Government has told the fishermen that they can fish because the waters are not Gibraltar’s and that therefore they have the full backing of the Government,” he said.

The row comes just days before Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo is due to meet British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London.

Margallo is expected to urge his British counterpart to return to the 1999 fishing agreement, which allowed a set quota of Spanish fishermen to work in Gibraltar waters.

He also confirmed he would raise the issue of bilateral sovereignty talks, although Hague is expected to reaffirm the British stance that there will be no agreement without the consent of Gibraltar’s residents.

26 COMMENTS

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  1. Whilst I have no issue with the Gibaltarians wishing to remain British and Britain wanting to maintain sovereignty over Gibraltar I think the row over fishing rights is becoming a dangerous side show. What happens if some trigger happy Guardia or Naval rating lets off a few live rounds, then we are really in dangerous territory, the seas are big enough for all to share please lets have some common sense here and not this gung ho attitude by either side.

  2. Typical. When politicians lead their constituents into an economic mess they will do absolutely anything to draw peoples attention to another issue. In this case it seems they will try to provoke their little neighbor into conflict. Gibraltar must be a painful reminder to these people as to why they don’t all speak French.

  3. The colonial goverment of gibraltar changed their positions and destroid “la buena vecindad” trying to expulse the spanish fisherman from water of the bay. The utrech treaty (the only reason for the existence of a british gibraltar) is very clear. Only ports waters.

  4. AA – the treaty of Utrecht states nothing about the waters because there WAS NO law about the waters in 1704 other than the “cannon shot rule” – but UN international law (which Gibraltar was a member of BEFORE Spain ALSO SIGNED membership of) gives Gibraltar the right to claim 12 miles of water, yet we only claim 3. Spanish fishermen are allowed to fish, but they must use legal nets and the 1999 informal agreement only allowed 4 fishing boats. They are entering with 6+ ships at a time and using illegal nets that are illegal even in Spanish waters… yet they come in escorted by the Civil Guard boats and helicopter – which are considerably larger and better armed (especially the people on them) than the Gibraltar Police. One of the boats we can see in our waters right now defending the illegal fishing CURRENTLY OCCURRING AGAIN has a crew of about 60 I’m told.

    If you lived in Gibraltar and saw what was going on, you’d understand that Spain is (and has been for 300 years) bullying Gibraltar constantly. They are also simultaneously harrasing us at the border and spreading malicious rumours such as that we’re a “Fiscal Paradise” according to the OECD, even though we are in truth Whitelisted by the OECD.

  5. Fenton, I dont want to start a besugos conversation with you. Gibraltar is a colony, with a naval base, free tax, Fiscal paradise and a ecological disaster. The police of gibraltar it´s a violent police who hostigated de Guardia civil from years,The colonial goverment of gibraltar changed their own positions and violate the 1999 agreement. If you love the international law, why dont you descolonize the rock? The UN is very clear. The utrech treaty is very clear. The brusels declarations are very clear. I´m going to support a honest workers in the algeciras bay and denunciate the situatuion.

  6. @AA
    Why does Spain oppose, and so block, the independence of Gibraltar from Great Britain? Answer. Because Gibraltar would then become an independent nation/state.
    Why do you ignore Article 1 of the UN Charter? Answer. Because of avarice. You see something shiny and you want to take it rather than working to improve your own.
    Why do you think the people who live in Gibraltar wishes are less important than yours? Why do you imagine people don’t see you for what you are?

  7. Ben, Gibraltar is a colony in Spain. The self determination is forbidden by UN resolutions becouse Gibraltar should return back to Spain. The UN declared the interest of gibraltarian should be respect, but not the wishes. Becouse the original population reside in San Roque. Gibraltar will be the next Hong Kong. We can wait.

  8. Gibraltar is not a colony, it is a military base, like Guantanamo. Over the years the boundaries of the base have been expanded beyond what was originally given, to include the land between the rock and La Linea. As a military base they have no territorial waters. Most Giraltarians (born on the rock) don’t even have the right of abode in the united kingdom as they are considered British Nationals of british dependant territories. So they are only british in name but without the right of abode in britain. Odly enough few realise that they do have the right to spanish citizenship, and thus the right of abode in the EEC including Great Britain.

  9. Hong Kong was leased to the UK. Gibraltar was SOLD in exchange for Florida and Minorca and some other place. The treaty only specified what was specified at the time – and not all the original population left… my family was one of the 30 or so original spanish families that stayed – and international law that supercedes old laws gives us 12 miles (of which we claim only 3), as it does for any place. Spain tries to stick to Utrecht when it suits its convenience, and forgets it when its equally convenient. The UN has not declassified us because we have not yet met the UN criteria, but our new constitution means we have a non-colonial constitution and relationship.

    Ultimately, all the maps in the world except Spain’s acknowledge the 3 miles around Gibraltar as Gibraltarian waters, and the bay area as the “Bay of Gibraltar” (except Spain’s really old maritime maps, which include it as Gibraltar waters). So we are not preventing Spanish fishermen from fishing in their waters. We are preventing Spanish fishermen fishing in BRITISH waters, aided by the Guardia Civil who bully us, and have been known to ram and on occasion even sink our ships often without provocation! Even during the summer, when people are swimming in the beach they approach (and the helicopter) within the swimming areas! Sorry but you can’t hold the high ground. Most Spanish people I know in the La Linea/Campamento area agree with me.

    It boils down to jealousy from Spain. Had Spain tried to be good neighbours and work with us, instead of bullying us for 300 years out of spite and spreading false information (which people here seem to believe and do not do enough research to learn the truth) then we may have been good friends, and maybe people may actually WANT Gibraltar to be given to Spain.

  10. The best that can be said about the waters surrounding Gibraltar is that they are disputed. There was an agreement in place that allowed Spanish fishermen to fish there. Picardo decided to unilaterally break that accord to further his own political ends and we are left with a situation in which the Royal Navy is being used to threaten workers from another EU state. Given those facts, it is unsurprising that the UK government has effectively decided to wash its hands of this and has left Picardo to sort it out for himself. He will lose this battle, but will have learned a valuable lesson in international diplomacy.

  11. Glynn, you shoild reppass history…and geography. Ceuta Melilla are spanish cities of spanish fatherland. They have never been colonies. The colony was the spanish protectorate over the Rif. The UN is very clear. Spain dont have colonies. Morroco dont have any rights over Spain. Gibraltar is a colony for de UN. And the UN declared should be return to Spain.

  12. THe Gibraltar Fisherman are under the same restriction as Spanish. Conservation is necessary because without it there will be no fish in Gibraltar as there are none in nearby Spain. Why can’t they boat share? Work together legally to fish sensibly? I personally have witnessed trawling nets 300m offshore in nearby Spain. Its SICKENING. There’s no fish left in Palmones!! There NEDDS TO BE CLARITY ON EU FISHERIES STANCE ON CONSERVATION

  13. In the 15th & 16th centuries Spain and Portugal claimed dominion over whole oceans (mares clausae) purporting exercise a legal right to exclude ships of all other nations.
    In the 17th century Britain made similar claims over her surrounding seas.

    Both claims were intolerable to shipping and fisheries. At the beginning of the Seventeenth Century the first and probably greatest jurist of public international law, Hugo Grotius, propounded in his writings the doctrine of the “mare liberum” or “freedom of the sea” for all vessels.

    By the first half of the 18th century the concept of the three-mile wide sovereign territorial sea emerged, and this was eventually adopted by most countries as the basis of marine jurisdiction, until the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, which entered into force in 1995, set a new standard of 12 nautical miles.

    Most countries, including the members of the European Union, are signatories to the Convention. It applies to Gibraltar.

    Spain added a comment regarding Gibraltar at the time of its adherence to the Convention which is of no legal effect in modifying the terms of the Convention, It does, however, record the view taken by Spain on this point, a view which no other signatory to the Convention accepts or accedes to.

    Under the Convention Gibraltar generates its own “Territorial Sea” of 12 nautical miles, or out to median lines where other states’ coastlines are under 24 nautical miles distant from Gibraltar.

    This is the current position to the North West and South, but not to the East/South East, because, although Spain and Morocco each have claimed the 12 nautical miles of the Convention (although Spain refuses to accept part of Morocco’s calculation of the median line to the West) Gibraltar has not yet extended its legal jurisdiction from 3 to 12 miles, so part of the waters to the East/South East remain international waters, though it is open to Gibraltar to annex these waters to its jurisdiction in accordance with its rights under the U.N. Convention.

    United
    Nations
    Reference
    UN Convention on the Law of the Sea website
    Spanish
    Statement
    [part] 2. In ratifying the Convention, Spain wishes to make it known that this act cannot be construed as recognition of any rights or status regarding the maritime space of Gibraltar that are not included in article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht of 13 July 1713 concluded between the Crowns of Spain and Great Britain. Furthermore, Spain does not consider that Resolution III of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea is applicable to the colony of Gibraltar, which is subject to a process of decolonization in which only relevant resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly are applicable.
    The British
    Statement
    [part] With regard to point 2 of the declaration made upon ratification of the Convention by the Government of Spain, the Government of the United Kingdom has no doubt about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom over Gibraltar, including its territorial waters. The Government of the United Kingdom, as the administering authority of Gibraltar, has extended the United Kingdom’s accession to the Convention and ratification of the Agreement to Gibraltar. The Government of the United Kingdom, therefore, rejects as unfounded point 2 of the Spanish declaration.
    Interpretation
    of these
    Statements The matter was discussed at the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in 2008, and later clarified in a statement by the Government of Gibraltar:
    A summary of the correct position is as follows: –

    (1) The 1958 Convention on the Territorial Seas and Contiguous Zone has been applied to Gibraltar. It provides (Article 1) that the Sovereignty of a State extends beyond its land territory to a belt of sea adjacent to its coast. Spain did not enter any reservation to the above, such as would relieve her of the legal effects of this provision. The Treaty of Utrecht is totally irrelevant to the legal effect of the 1958 Convention.

    (2) Accordingly, British Sovereignty of Gibraltar’s “land territory” entitles it to Sovereignty of “a sea belt adjacent to its coast.” Britain has declared 3 miles.

    (3) The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention of 1982 has been extended to Gibraltar. It provides (Article 3) that every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea upto a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles. The 3 miles declared by Britain is thus squarely within the entitlement bestowed by the Convention. Spain has not entered a reservation to the above, and indeed she was precluded from doing so by the terms of the 1982 Convention (Article 309) itself.

    (4) Spain did make statements and declarations but, Article 310 of the 1982 Convention makes it clear that such statements and declarations cannot exclude or modify the legal effect of the provisions of the Convention in their application to Spain.

    (5) Accordingly, by virtue of these Conventions the UK has a treaty right to territorial waters in Gibraltar not exceeding 12 miles. The UK has declared 3 miles. Spain’s statements and declarations have no legal effect in altering this position. Her political assertions to the contrary are thus unsustainable in international law, which is what the Chief Minister said to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

    TAKE US TO COURT….WE HAVE ASKED SPAIN TO DO SO FOR MANY YEARS….LOOKING AT THE TREATY OF UTRECHT IN COMBINATION TO THE WATERS 192 CONVENTION….GIBRALTAR HAS NOTHING TO FEAR…WHY HAS SPAIN TAKEN 300 YEARS AND NOT TAKEN GIB TO EU COURTS ? COULD IT BE THAT GIBRALTAR IS RIGHT ! DEFINETELY THE LAW IS CLEAR.

  14. Treaty of Peace & Friendship

    It is incomprehensible that a democratic European country such as Spain, in the 21st Century, continues in a rather medieval fashion the persecution of Gibraltarians and residence of Gibraltar and hypocritically chooses to ignore the true meaning of the Treaty of Peace & Friendship-Treaty of Utrecht!

    The Treaty of Utrecht, which established the Peace of Utrecht, was signed by the belligerents in the War of the Spanish Succession, in the Dutch city of Utrecht in March and April 1713. Gibraltar was subsequently ceded to Britain “in perpetuity, meaning eternity, infinity, time without end.

    Another element of the Treaty, that many Spanish politicians conveniently ignore, is the inclusion and meaning of “in perpetuity, and how offensive and ridiculous the term Gibraltar is Spanish can be to anyone with a bit of common sense and understanding on the basic principles of Human Rights, especially when these outbursts are made publicly or by Spanish politicians who forget the basic principles and the meaning of democracy.

    Gibraltar has been British for more than 300years, and as long as we the people of Gibraltar maintain the right to self determination we will continue to be here in perpetuity-for ever. Hopefully by then the Fascist element of Spanish politics should have moved on by then and the meaning of modern democracy should have been understood in full. The Spanish argument that Gibraltar has only been British for 300years is sad and desperate. If we consider the birth of the United States from the Declaration of Independence (1776), then it’s 229 years old. Moors descents from Northern Africa, who came to conquer, occupied and ruled the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years! Gibraltar has been Moorish for longer than it has ever been Spanish! They called the territory Al Andalus, comprising most of what is now Spain and Portugal. They called Gibraltar Gibel El Tarik.

    It is also an extremely hypocritical argument for the Spanish central government to play the geographical card, when their so called Spanish enclaves are effectively on an entirely different continent!

    The Spanish claim relies on a misapplication of the legal principles of decolonization to a situation more akin to the many European boundary delimitation treaties from this era whose validity is unquestioned.

    Our British right to Gibraltar appears to be stronger, both on the grounds of a treaty right put into practice and on the basis of Gibraltarians’ right to self-determination, which has been exercised in favour of continued British sovereignty.

    Although before the 20th century, we argued whether, on the language of the Treaty of Utrecht, the cession included rights to any territorial waters, which although not mentioned it does imply we do-the cannon blast rule in the 1713, Spain has ratified the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which allows for countries to claim up to 12 miles of territorial water. At the time of ratification Spain made a declaration that the treaty should not apply to the territorial waters surrounding Gibraltar. But the treaty explicitly excluded reservations under art. 309. It allowed for declarations, but provided that they should not affect the interpretation of the treaty. The question of invalid reservations is a contentious one, but under the Vienna Convention the treaty could apply to Spain without reservation.

    It is ironic to learn if one does some research into this rather contentious issue that a Spanish Professor Jesus Verdu Baeza from the University of Cadiz and born in Algeciras, also a very well renown and internationally recognised expert in International law of the seas publicly recognizes that every territory has the explicit right to project jurisdiction and sovereignty over its coast line waters also affirmed in the Montego Bay Convention 1982.

    In the Diario Sur on the 5th May 2001, the esteem Spanish professor publicly declares that the Spanish position on the issue of jurisdiction over British Gibraltar Territorial waters is totally erroneous and embarrassingly weak! Something that seems to have been very conveniently kept away from the Spanish media.

    It is shameful that in this day and age, we still continue to have an element of Spanish society who see fit to make derogatory comments against Gibraltar which are neither correct or factual and only serve to highlight the desperateness of the Spanish argument. What concerns me is the fact that there seems to be too many Spaniards who cant see beyond the lies and desperation of their Government and then base their views on the statements made from individuals such as this Mrs Suarez in the programme el gran debate. WARS have been started by irresponsible individuals like this!

    One thing is very clear, the only long term solution to modern cohabitation and neighbourly relations, can only progress when the Spanish Claim is rescinded, the brain washing propaganda machine started by the long gone Franco dictator against Gibraltar is ceased, something that many of you will agree with me, is extremely unlikely to happen either in my generation or the next.

    It is about time that Britain takes a firm position on this matter and kicks all the Spanish arguments out of site for good and embraces the true meaning of perpetuity in such a declaration. There is a British saying which mentions the reaction of the sleeping lion, well the Spanish government has been poking this bloody lion for some time now and it hasn’t even flinched!

    As Gibraltarians we need to maintain the high moral ground, which is what makes us a British and a unique people with a modern democracy that we have enjoyed for a much lengthier period of time that of our Spanish neighbours. We cannot and we should not generalize and not allow us to get into fights or arguments with our neighbours simply because of their nationality or the poor state of affairs of their central government.

    Quite frankly, Spain has a huge economical and social problem and has the highest unemployment rates in Europe, it is shameful that the central government of Spain sees fit to use a bunch of fisherman to make headway to a political argument that holds no water and is being used as a typical old age Hispanic tactic to detract the attention of the masses on the real mess they their country is in.

    Well done to Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo, for his live debate on Spanish TV programme “el gran debate”, but I believe that our CM should not waste his time in such debates with individuals who do not merit or do not have the intellect to communicate with a man of such a calibre.. The only matter that I would have been happier to have been more forceful with is the fact that Spain sends an armed Paramilitary Police Vessel to exercise jurisdiction in Gibraltar British waters and aid and abet criminal activities and then they complain when the Royal Navy gives them a stern warning over the radio of their incursion. Surely this needs to be highlighted as an act of provocation that in other parts of the world that are less tolerant have been interpreted as a defiant act of aggression!

    Another and final note, 2000 Spanish fisherman unable to make a leaving because they can’t use their illegal equipment in 7 Km of our coastline…..come on! If the central Spanish Government is so concerned about the lack of fish stock in their 8,000 miles of coast line which they have effectively overfished and drained, why don’t they consider opening up 7km of Spanish Protected coastline for them to use their illegal equipment in! Problem solved!

  15. The Treaty of Utrecht only ceded ‘the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts’ nothing else. Moreover,Gibraltar is listed by the UN as a territory that needs to be decolonised by the UK. It is not an independent State and as such it does not have territorial waters.

    This fact is recognised by the European Union which has included its waters within a new 69 square mile EU marine conservation area called the ‘Estrecho Oriental’, to be maintained by Spain.

    Under EU law, only the member State with sovereignty over the land or sea in question can apply for it to be designated an EU conservation site – meaning the EU has recognised Spain’s sovereignty over those waters.

  16. @Janine

    It is pure obfuscation to insist, as the UK and you do, that Gibraltarians have a right under the principle of self-determination to remain British and still live in Gibraltar.
    Under international law there are territorial limitations
    to the right of self-determination for transplanted populations living in colonial enclaves where a pre-colonial claim of sovereignty exists. This is the case with Gibraltar which is listed by the UN as a territory that needs to be decolonised by the UK.

    A coloniser cannot legally disrupt the territorial integrity of another State by implanting its own population unto the territory it is colonising. In cases such as these, the inhabitants of the territory have a right to have their ‘interests’ considered but they have no right to unilaterally determine the nationality of the land they live in.

    The UN has confirmed that the principle of territorial integrity complements and CONSTRAINS the right to
    self-determination (see for example: Resolution 1514 (XV) (1960) ‘Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’).

    The UN has repeatedly invited the UK to participate in discussions to achieve the de-colonisation of Gibraltar.
    Unfortunately, the UK continues to rely on a discredited interpretation of the principle of self-determination to turn a deaf ear to those requests in a clearly self-serving way.

    The reason why there are territorial limitations to the right of self-determination for transplanted populations living in colonial enclaves is because otherwise it would be lawful for a group of people from say Ireland to establish an Irish colony on the eastern coast of England and then claim a right under the principle of self-determination to have the land they are occupying declared a part of Ireland.

  17. In any case, the treaty of Utrecht created the British colonial enclave in the first place. Moreover, British occupation of the isthmus and its failure to implement all of its provisions means that the UK is in breach of the treaty.

    The UK cannot ignore international law by relying on a treaty which it has itself invalidated by its own actions.

  18. FurtherBeyond – “The UK cannot ignore international law by relying on a treaty which it has itself invalidated by its own actions.”

    1. Why can’t it ignore it? All countries ignore international law if they deem it to be in their best interest. In fact, that is the sovereign right of nation-states. A sovereign nation has a moral and legal duty to ignore international law if it is not in the best interest of its national population.

    2. Why do you think violating a treaty invalidates it? Let us look at this assumption – a country violates an international treaty to which it is a signatory (say, the USA and torture). Does that thus invalidate the treaty they agreed to? If so, then future incidents of torture are not illegal. The treaty has been broken so it is no longer valid, right? That’s your position.

    In short, breaking a treaty doesn’t make it disappear or free the signatories from their obligations under the treaty. That would be a handy way of getting out of treaty obligations, though. Any nation could become signatory to a treaty, then break it when they are done and be free of the obligations therein.

  19. I would like to remind the woodpeg Basque admiral’s namesake that the Algeciras fishermen are already getting subsidies from the European Union for not being allowed to fish in Moroccan waters, where they are not wanted due to the over fishing they tend to do in most waters, but their own, where the fish stock have depleted considerably.

    They are receiving, together with fishermen from Barbate and Conil the grand sum of 100 euros each per day for the skipper and that is depending on the length of their fishing boats and 45 euros each per day per fisherman sailing on those boats. These subsidies which have been granted since last December will last until this December, when no doubt it will be reviewed again no doubt, depending on whether Morocco allows them to come in and fish again.

    Not so for the La Linea fishermen who dont normally fish in Moroccan waters. But these La Linea fishermen are allowed to fish in BGTW with certain tackle which is not considered illegal. So who is going hungry, the fishermen or the Dolphins who cant find enough fish to sustain themselves in these waters?

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