Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Gibraltar's British territorial waters - What the Govt says it will not permit is already happening!

The Opposition say they note that the General Court of the European Court has ruled inadmissible on procedural grounds the cases filed by the Gibraltar and the United Kingdom Governments following the designation by Spain of Gibraltar’s waters as if they were Spanish. This rejection on procedural grounds appears to be based on the fact that the Gibraltar Government asked only for part of the Spanish designation to be struck off instead of all of it.

The Opposition has not been a party to the case and has not been briefed in any way. Therefore our comments are based exclusively on the information which has already been put into the public domain by others.

It will be recalled that in 2006, on a proposal from the United Kingdom, two Sites of Community Importance (SIC) in Gibraltar were designated by the EU for the purposes of environmental directives. One of these, called “Southern Waters of Gibraltar”, was within British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. In 2008, on a Spanish proposal, the EU designated a new Site of Community Importance (SCI) called “Estrecho Oriental”. This new site overlapped with and included the one already designated by the United Kingdom as well as including international waters and Spanish waters.

The Gibraltar Government filed a court case which sought to remove British Gibraltar Territorial waters from the Spanish designation, with the intention that this would remain in place as amended. This procedure has not been allowed by the Court. It is logical to assume, although this is not clear, that the Government were advised to proceed in this manner as opposed to seeking that the entire Spanish designation should be struck off.

However, at the time when the case was filed, a second precautionary action was also initiated in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar. The Government said at the time that “This second action is precautionary in a procedural sense. We fully expect our direct action in the EU Court of First Instance to prosper procedurally.”

The Opposition adds: It is regrettable that the case has not prospered procedurally and that now an appeal needs to be filed.

The Opposition goes on to say that they agree with the Government that British Gibraltar Territorial Waters should be subject to the exclusive application of Gibraltar law. However, the point is that ever since the designation, the Spanish authorities have effectively behaved more aggressively as if the waters in question belonged to them and have been seeking to apply Spanish law in an area of territorial sea which is not Spanish.

There have been a whole series of serious incidents which have taken place as Spain has tried to enforce its purported jurisdiction in Gibraltar waters. The fisheries protection vessel, the Corvette “Tarifa” started this new phase when it lowered a RHIB which proceeded to inspect fishing boats in British waters. It refused to leave when asked to do so by the Royal Navy. There have been numerous recorded incidents of the Guardia Civil stopping pleasure boats and asking owners for their documentation, sometimes within meters of our shoreline. They removed a suspect from RGP custody in the Bay and prevented the arrest of others in the area of the lighthouse a few weeks ago. The Spanish Navy recently ordered a vessel at anchor on the east side to leave those waters because they were Spanish.

Therefore when the Gibraltar Government says that it will not “permit British Gibraltar Territorial Waters to be treated, administered or governed for EU or any other purposes other than as waters of exclusive British Sovereignty,” they have to bear in mind that, in this context, what they have said they will not permit has been happening already. This is why the Opposition has always taken the view that the additional resources for the RGP and other agencies, which the Government itself identified were needed in 2009, should have been made available a long time ago.

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