The Royal Navy fired several warning flares at the Spanish research vessel Ángeles Alvariño in a tense stand-off which lasted several hours on Sunday, when the Spanish ship failed to respond to radio communications and repeated orders to leave the waters which the British territory and Spain both claim are theirs.
Scientists on board the Ángeles Alvariño, who said later that they were in Spanish waters and were attempting to carry out important research to study the risk of tsunamis in the area, attempted to drop a sonar buoy into the sea but were prevented by an inflatable speedboat from the Gibraltar Squadron.
Those who saw the incident reported that the Spanish vessel was manoeuvering in an “aggressive” manner and “harassing” the British boats.
The decision to fire warning flares from the Naval patrol boat HMS Sabre was taken after it proved impossible to communicate with the scientists by radio and they did not respond to instructions to move away from the area. Their boat did leave for a short while later in the afternoon, but returned not long afterwards.
On Monday, the Spanish authorities said they would object very strongly to the UK government about “threatening” and “intimidating” behaviour by the Navy towards the research ship. However, Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said that he had discussed all the tactical decisions taken and was satisfied that they had been “designed to demonstrate untrammelled sovereignty jurisdiction and control over BGTW.”
In a statement, he congratulated the Royal Navy for “the work they have undertaken so far in very challenging circumstances, in light of the reckless disregard for safety displayed by the official Spanish vessels involved”.