The Royal Navy, stretched thin by budget cuts, ship decommissioning, delayed replacement vessels, and increased operational demands, would be hard-pressed to deploy significant assets to Gibraltar.
Navy ‘can’t do a lot’ about Gibraltar
Defence cuts mean the Royal Navy would struggle to send warships to Gibraltar amid tensions with Spain over the Rock, it was claimed today.
The warning comes amid a dispute with Madrid over Gibraltar’s sovereignty.
Relations between the British territory and Spain have deteriorated in recent months in a row over fishing grounds, with Spanish ministers raising the prospect of imposing a £43 levy on vehicles crossing the border and the possibility of closing airspace.
Mike Critchley, a former naval officer and book publisher from Gosport, told The News: ‘In times past the navy would have had a presence down there, but now the navy is tremendously reduced.
‘The navy can’t meet all its commitments.
‘Ships do go there, submarines go there, and there are some small patrol vessels.
‘But it is a difficult situation, we’re talking about two NATO countries, two EU countries, so obviously the government is just going to be watching what happens at the moment.
‘The navy can’t do a lot about it. This has been going on for a while Someone has got to bang heads together.’
The government has insisted there will be no compromise over the sovereignty of Gibraltar, and foreign secretary William Hague has vowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with its citizens in response to heightened pressure and increasingly belligerent rhetoric from Madrid.
Last night, Mr Hague reiterated the UK’s commitment to the people of Gibraltar after speaking to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo.
He said: ‘I emphasised to Gibraltar’s elected Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, that the UK stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Gibraltar at this time of increasing Spanish pressure and rhetoric.
‘I also highlighted that we will respect Gibraltar’s 2006 Constitution and the commitments the UK has repeatedly made not to compromise on British sovereignty over Gibraltar.
‘We discussed the need for a political solution to the current tension with Spain, which would be firmly in the interests of communities on both sides of Gibraltar’s border with Spain.
‘I call upon Spain to respect the agreements made at Cordoba and to avoid actions which could increase tension further.
‘We agreed that it was important to respond to actions, not rhetoric, and I confirmed that we would continue to raise our concerns with Spain.’
What price a guard ship?
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.