Spanish officials illegally restrain Brits in Gibraltar as UK demand answers

The UK is demanding answers from the Spanish Government after customs officers allegedly restrained crew members of a Gibraltar vessel in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, showing a flagrant disregard for UK sovereignty.

The incident, which took place on Monday night (August 14), saw a Spanish Servicio de Vigilancia Aduanera (SVA) boat called Aguila 2 chase a British vessel, The Ultimate Predator, before SVA officers forced their way on board.

According to The Gibraltar Chronicle, the Spanish officials attempted to take executive action at 10pm.

The UK Government is now raising the issue with Spain in Madrid, in what threatens to turn into a fraught diplomatic incident between the two allies.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesman told The Gibraltar Chronicle: “The UK Government is aware of an incident on 14 August where a Spanish customs vessel conducted constabulary actions in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, which constituted an incursion and violation of UK sovereignty.

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“The UK Government will protest this incident to the Spanish Government.”

HM Customs made it onto the scene, while the SVA were aboard the British vessel and came to the assistance of the crew.

The Gibraltar Defence Police also scrambled to the scene and the SVA withdrew from The Ultimate Predator at around 11pm.

No6 Convent Place – the Gibraltar government HQ – said: “One of the crew members of the Gibraltar vessel appears to have been illegally restrained by a Spanish operative who boarded their vessel despite lacking jurisdiction to take any action within Gibraltar or the internationally recognised British waters around it.

“The other crew members of the Gibraltar vessel were taken aboard a HM Customs vessel whilst Gibraltar law enforcement searched the Ultimate Predator and liaised with the SVA.”

HM Customs had spotted the vessel on its system, as travelling without navigational lights and without its Automatic Identification System (AIS) sharing its location.

The statement said of this: “This gave rise to suspicion by HM Customs who moved to identify the vessel.

“HM Customs is satisfied, having subsequently searched the Ultimate Predator, and having tracked its movements, that it had been carrying out a legitimate crew transfer to a merchant ship in BGTW and that its navigational lights and AIS had malfunctioned.”

Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, branded the incident “an unacceptable reflection” of Spain’s failure to recognise that their territory does not include Gibraltar’s British waters.

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He said: “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 BGTW. 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.

“The Spanish officers in question have potentially committed offences against Gibraltar law and I am asking that the matter must be forcefully raised with Spain.

“They were out of their jurisdiction and they were acting illegally in restraining a person in Gibraltar without legal authority to do so. That is worse than unacceptable.”

“I am pleased that the United Kingdom will be making its position clear to Spain on this incident. It does nothing to promote the cross-frontier relationships 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 suspicion in the wider population about the attitude of some sectors of Spanish law enforcement to Gibraltar.

“I commend the crews of the HM Customs and GDP vessels for their actions and their proportionate responses.”

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