By James Bryce
POLICE in Gibraltar are deploying extra boats after Spanish officers arrested two British nationals for fishing in waters around the Rock.
The two men were detained for two hours on Friday night and had their Gibraltar-registered boat impounded and fishing equipment seized.
While they were eventually released without charge, the incident has speeded up the construction of a new base close to the border to help protect its waters.
It also comes just days after a Gibraltarian told local paper Panorama that Spanish police had fired over a dozen rubber bullets at his pleasure boat, accusations denied by the Guardia Civil.
Both incidents have sparked outrage among politicians, with Gibraltar vowing to defend itself by ramping up security in the waters around the Rock.
“I am shocked by the disgraceful behaviour of the Spanish Guardia Civil,” said Foreign Office Minister for Europe David Lidington.
“The Government will be making it clear to Spain that such action, on the part of the law enforcement agencies of a EU Partner and NATO Ally, is intolerable and unlawful.
“The British Government remains confident of our Sovereignty of Gibraltar and British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.
“Our position is clear. The UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another State against their wishes.”
The Gibraltar government meanwhile condemned the Spanish authorities for confiscating fishing equipment, insisting that the boat’s owners were not fishing illegally.
It also accused Spanish police of turning off navigational lights on both the fishing boat and their own craft in a deliberate attempt to avoid detection.
“Gibraltar condemns the actions of the Spanish Civil Guards,” insisted a spokesman.
“This latest incident, as indeed all the others, are totally outside international law and the bounds of acceptable neighbourly behaviour.
“Such actions amount to a clear and premeditated escalation of the continuing breaches of the sovereign integrity of our waters, which have been occurring repeatedly for more than three years.
“This belligerent act of provocation by the para-military armed forces of Spain cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.”
Gibraltar’s leaders have urged the UK to take decisive action, insisting ‘the time has now come for action, not simply written protests’.
He added: “Guardia Civil actions such as these are not only invasions of our territorial sea which must be repelled by the Royal Navy.
“They also amount to criminal acts of unlawful detention, trespass and false imprisonment.”
The incident follows a number of clashes between Gibraltarian authorities and Spanish fishermen over fishing rights in the disputed waters around the Rock.