An armed Royal Navy patrol boat was at hand when an MoD Gibraltar Defence police vessel was involved in a collision with a Guardia Civil vessel early yesterday morning after the Spanish crew sailed too close to a Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker in British Gibraltar territorial waters.
The Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron was providing force protection to the RFA Wave Ruler when the Spanish patrol boat Rio Tormes breached the security cordon.
Armed sailors on HMS Scimitar ordered the Spanish vessel to leave the area but the Guardia Civil ignored the warning, resulting in a tense standoff and risky close-quarter manoeuvring.
“We can confirm that there was an incident which involved a Guardia Civil vessel manoeuvring in a dangerous and provocative manner in the vicinity of Royal Naval vessels,” a spokesman for the Convent told the Chronicle.
Asked if the Royal Navy had trained weapons on the Spanish vessel, the Convent spokesman said the British sailors had “followed appropriate operational procedures” during the incident.
“No shots were fired and there were no injuries,” he added. “There was a minor collision but no damage occurred.” MoD has today clarified our earlier report and confirmed that the collission was with a GDP vessel and not the RN ship.
The incident occurred yesterday just before 8 am while the Gibraltar Squadron was providing force protection to the tanker during a routine transfer off Europa Point. Senior sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the proximity of the Guardia Civil vessel to a military operation had created a potentially volatile situation.
“It was a stupid thing to do, completely and utterly dangerous,” one source said.
HMS Scimitar, which was accompanied by Royal Navy rigid-hull inflatable boats and a vessel from the Gibraltar Defence Police at the time, is always armed during force protection duties.
The Royal Navy patrol boat is equipped with small arms, including two general purpose machine guns mounted at the stern.
The incident generated a flurry of diplomatic activity as officials here briefed British ministers and officials in Whitehall.
“UK ministers have been kept fully informed and we will be raising this at a high level with the Spanish government,” the Convent spokesman added.
The British Ministry of Defence is also investigating the incident.
“We are aware of an incident and we are looking at the exact circumstances,” a spokesman for Headquarters British Forces Gibraltar told the Chronicle yesterday.