Gibraltar has its apes, but Spain loves monkey business

Perhaps British fishermen could join with their Moroccan brethren and play silly buggers in the waters off Ceuta and Melilla?

Tense standoff in British waters as reef project is completed

A major operation involving Gibraltar police and Royal Navy vessels yesterday prevented Spanish fishermen and the Guardia Civil from hampering work to lay an artificial reef in Gibraltar waters off the runway.

The police and naval vessels created a maritime cordon around the locally-based tug Eliott and the barge MHB Dole as dozens of purpose-built concrete blocks were dumped into the sea. But there was high tension on the sea, particularly in the morning when the Guardia Civil vessel Rio Tormes carried out a high-speed manoeuvre close to the tug.

The Spanish launch weaved through British vessels and swerved to create a large wake, despite attempts to cut it off.

“There is no doubt that it was a dangerous manoeuvre on their part,” one source told the Chronicle. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss operational matters.

That initial incident late morning was followed by chaotic scenes as two Spanish fishing boats – the Alejandro and the Divina Providencia – sailed dangerously close to the barge as it continued to lay blocks.

By this time there were three Guardia Civil boats at the scene, the Rio Tormes, the Rio Cedeña and a rigid-hull inflatable boat. The Royal Gibraltar Police, the Gibraltar Defence Police and the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron had seven boats there in total. There was a frenzy of activity as the British vessels tried to prevent the fishermen from approaching and the Guardia Civil tried to shield them, creating a volatile and potentially dangerous situation.

It was those safety concerns that eventually led to the British and Spanish vessels extracting the fishermen from the meleé.

Three high-level sources in Gibraltar, one of them closely involved in the operation, told the Chronicle that Spanish vessels assisted at this stage in order to remove the fishermen. All three sources also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to do so openly.

In a statement last night, the Gibraltar Government said there were “conflicting reports” about the role played by the Guardia Civil.

The tussle over, an RGP vessel and a Guardia Civil vessel approached the fishing boats to speak to the fishermen, who eventually left the area.

Throughout the day, the tug and the barge continued to load blocks in port and return to the site off the runway to drop them at sea to create the reef.

They were watched by the Guardia Civil but the Spanish vessels held back, save for one incident toward the end of the day when the Rio Cedeña moved in for a closer look but was blocked by the British vessels.

“During this afternoon, the tug and barge were able to carry out their work without interference,” the Government statement said.

The Gibraltar Government said the reef would encourage marine life and help regenerate the seabed. But in marking the boundary of British Gibraltar territorial waters in that area, the line of cement blocks will also stop Spanish fishermen from raking the seabed for conch in breach of Gibraltar laws.

That fact was not lost on Francisco Gómez, the captain of the Divina Providencia.

“It’s the end of that fishing ground,” he said.

http://www.chronicle.gi/headlines_details.php?id=30220

Ceuta

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