The UK is to launch a formal protest with Madrid after Spanish customs officers “overstepped” their jurisdiction to board a locally-registered boat suffering equipment problems in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters and allegedly restrained a crew member.
A spokesman for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Offices said the move “constituted an incursion and violation of UK sovereignty”.
He added: “The UK Government will protest this incident to the Spanish Government.”
The incident occurred around 10.30pm on August 14 when HM Customs identified a port tender vessel, the Ultimate Predator, travelling without navigational lights or an Automatic Identification System (AIS) flagging its location.
A Spanish Servicio de Vigilancia Aduenera (SVA) craft patrolling the area pursued the Ultimate Predator into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) – outside its jurisdiction – where upon interception, Spanish Customs officers boarded the boat, apparently restraining a crew member before being joined by their HM Customs counterparts.
A Gibraltar Government spokesman 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 boat were taken aboard an HM Customs vessel while Gibraltar law enforcement officers searched the Ultimate Predator and liaised with the SVA.
Although their suspicions had been alerted, HM Customs officials later confirmed that the vessel had been legitimately transferring crew to a merchant ship in BGTW when its navigational lights and AIS malfunctioned.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, denounced the SVA’s actions saying: “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,” he said.
“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,” Picardo concluded.