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Spanish navy goads Brits with Gibraltar incursion

April 4, 2017

Just days after a British politician threatened war to protect its claim on Gibraltar, a Spanish ship sailed through its waters. It progressed slowly about a mile offshore, triggering an angry response.

Royal Navy HMS Westminster sails the waters with the Rock of Gibraltar in the background on August 19, 2013
The Royal Navy's HMS Westminster in 2013 by the Rock of GibraltarImage: Getty Images/P. B. Dominguez

A Spanish warship sailed into the disputed waters of Gibraltar on Tuesday, goading Britain into a hasty interception.

The intrusion came just days after a row between Britain and the European Union broke out over its disputed sovereignty ahead of Brexit negotiations.

Gibraltar's government published a video of the Spanish Navy patrol ship Infanta Cristina in the sea off the territory and accused it of carrying out an "illegal incursion" into its territorial waters.

Spain's Foreign Ministry denied the vessel had made an illegal incursion, as it does not recognize the UK's claims to the waters.

"An illegal incursion, no, because for us it is the utilization of our waters," a spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

"Spain does not recognize other rights and situations belonging to Great Britain in the maritime spaces that are not included in Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht," he said.

A Ministry of Defense official told Associated Press the patrol was no different than others conducted on a weekly basis to monitor migration or drug trafficking across the Gibraltar Strait.

The EU, the UK, Gibraltar and trade

A squabble between the two parties broke out after the EU last Friday published its draft negotiating position for Britain's divorce from the EU, stating the application of any EU-UK trade deals to Gibraltar had to be agreed between Britain and Spain, which has long claimed sovereignty over the enclave.

In response, British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement saying London was "steadfast" in its commitment to the territory. The former leader of her Conservative Party even suggested they would be prepared to go to war to defend it.

Gibraltar's Government claimed the Tuesday incident was the seventh incursion by a Spanish navy ship this year.

"The Royal Navy challenges all unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters - and did so again on this occasion," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

In July, Spain's Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to protest what it described as reckless behavior by a Gibraltar police boat toward a Spanish police vessel.

aw/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)