Gibraltar criticises Spanish police dive
- 24 August 2013
- From the section UK
Gibraltar has strongly criticised Spanish police for sending divers to inspect an artificial reef in waters claimed by the British territory.
Governor Sir Adrian Johns said the action constituted a serious violation of UK sovereignty over Gibraltar.
He said it was particularly unhelpful in the light of the current row over fishing rights which has led to strict border checks and long car queues.
Spain says the reef is damaging its fishing industry.
Last month, the government of Gibraltar dropped 74 concrete blocks onto the sea bed to create an artificial reef designed to reinvigorate marine life.
Pictures show Guardia Civil divers examining the blocks with measuring tape.
The divers took Spanish flags with them then posed for underwater photos, which were later shared on Twitter.
The Gibraltar government has defended its right to erect the reef, and accused Spain of "making a serious incursion into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters" and adding to existing tensions.
The government in Madrid disputes Gibraltar's ownership of the waters off its coast, and accuses its neighbour of deliberately damaging the Spanish fishing trade.
An offer from Gibraltar's chief minister to allow 59 local Spanish fishermen to return to the area had been made before the images of the police divers emerged.
The Gibraltar government said in a statement: "Her Majesty's Government of Gibraltar notes the incident of executive action taken by the Guardia Civil in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters in the area of the new artificial reef.
"The matter of this serious incursion will not assist in de-escalating the present tensions."
The European Commission is to send a fact-finding mission to Gibraltar to investigate controls at the border.
It follows tensions between Spain and the UK over extra border checks on the Spanish side which have caused lengthy traffic delays.
Britain says the checks break EU free movement rules but Spain says Gibraltar has not controlled smuggling.
Royal Navy warship HMS Westminster docked in Gibraltar last week in what the British government said was a long-planned deployment of a number of vessels to the Mediterranean and the Gulf.
Spain disputes UK sovereignty over Gibraltar, a limestone outcrop near the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula, which has been ruled by Britain since 1713.