15 Aug, 2023 @ 18:30
2 mins read

Spain chases UK boat before ‘illegally’ detaining crew member: Row brewing after the Ultimate Predator was boarded in British waters off Gibraltar despite Spain having no jurisdiction

Spanish customs official accused of illegally boarding UK vessel in British waters off Gibraltar
Cordon Press image

THE UK will lodge a formal complaint with Madrid on Wednesday after a Spanish patrol boat pursued a UK-flagged vessel in British waters – before ‘illegally detaining’ one of its crew. 

The Gibraltar government is fuming over the incident, which occurred off the coast of the British Overseas Territory at around 10.30pm on Monday. 

The UK boat, called The Ultimate Predator, was chased by Spain’s Aquila 2 and ordered to stop, despite the Spanish having no jurisdiction in the internationally recognised British waters. 

Adding fuel to the fire, Spanish customs officers boarded the boat and ‘illegally’ detained one of the British crew members. 

The Ultimate Predator is a port tender boat which HM Customs had identified on radar as travelling without navigational lights and without its Automatic Identification System (AIS) flagging its location.

This had raised suspicions with the Spanish authorities. 

However following an inspection, HM Customs left the craft satisfied, having confirmed that it had been carrying out a legitimate crew transfer to a merchant ship in British waters and that and that its navigational lights and AIS had merely malfunctioned.

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said: ‘Incidents like this are an unacceptable reflection of the failure by Spanish law enforcement to recognise that the territorial limits of their jurisdiction does not extend to Gibraltar’s unquestionably British waters.’

HM Customs attended the scene and after heated discussions with their Spanish counterparts, officials from the Aquila 2 left the area.

Mr Picardo added: ‘The unfortunate failure of the navigational lights and AIS of a vessel can, rightly, give rise to suspicion on the part of law enforcement agencies patrolling the area but HM Customs was dealing with the matter.

‘The engagement of a foreign law enforcement agency, however, without any communication or coordination with Gibraltar law enforcement, is illegal and unacceptable.’

There has been no comment from the Spanish government about the incident.

Mr Picardo said the Spanish agents had potentially ‘committed offences’ against Gibraltar law, as he demanded the issue be strongly raised with Spain. 

He said he hoped for more cooperation and coordination with Spain in the future to fight crime, but that that would not be helped by ‘illegal actions such as those reportedly carried out overnight.’ 

The fuming leader said that the Spanish had acted unlawfully by a holding a person in Gibraltar without the legal authority to do so, branding it ‘worse than unacceptable.’ 

He said: ‘I am pleased that the UK is going to make its position clear to Spain on this incident. It does nothing to foster the cross-border relations that we have worked so hard to build.

‘In fact, it does the opposite and tends to damage cooperation between law enforcement colleagues, as well as creating even deeper suspicions in the general population about the attitude of some sections of Spanish law enforcement towards Gibraltar.

‘I commend the Gibraltar Customs Service and Ministry of Defense Police vessel crews for their actions and their responses provided.’

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