Gibraltar’s troubled territorial waters

A serious diplomatic incident was recorded near or inside Gibraltar’s territorial waters on Sunday. So far, there are competing accounts of where actually the incident took place. The Gibraltar account argued that a Spanish warship approached commercial ships docked in the eastern quays of the port of Gibraltar. The warship called them to leave from Spanish territorial waters. The ships nonetheless ignored the Spanish warship’s requests upon receiving orders by the Gibraltar Port Authority and remained docked. Britain’s Royal Navy warships patrolling in adjacent areas moved in Gibraltar’s territorial waters to resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, they did not encounter the Spanish warship. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar’s government, Fabian Picardo, condemned Spanish aggression on the territorial waters of the Rock (another name for Gibraltar) which fall under British sovereignty.

On the other hand, the Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell argued that the incident took place inside Spain’s territorial waters, when the warship encountered three merchant vessels. Upon the warship’s request, the vessels exited from Spanish territorial waters. Interestingly, none of the two parties involved in the dispute mentioned the nationality of commercial ships involved in the incident. For his part, the British Defence Minister Gavin Williamson reiterated on Monday, Britain’s sustained presence in Gibraltar and pledged to take all the necessary measures to protect the Rock’s sovereignty in the future.

Questions over the final status of Gibraltar resurfaced in anticipation of the forthcoming Brexit to be finalised by 1st April. Spain objects to British sovereignty over the Rock, even though Britain has formally annexed Gibraltar under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.  The forthcoming Brexit will undeniably worsen security conditions for Gibraltar’s residents, as the free movement and travel rights of 30.000 Rock residents are to be severely restrained upon Britain’s exit from the European Union. Spain has already declared the tightening up of its land and naval border controls, potentially hampering access of Gibraltar residents and British vessels to Spanish territories.

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