On Tuesday a Spanish state research vessel, the RV Ramon Margalef, was spotted in British territorial waters off Gibraltar. A Royal Navy fast patrol boat was sent out and the captain ordered the Spanish boat to leave. In reply, the Spanish captain claimed to have permission to conduct his survey and refused the demand. It was twenty hours later when the intruder finally left British waters and then only after intervention by the Spanish Ambassador.
Recent incursions into British territorial waters off Gibraltar have increased significantly from about 5 per month to 40 per month. This is seen by many as deliberate provocation which has incensed the chief minister, Fabian Picardo. He would like to see the Royal Navy firing at any boat that defies instructions to leave.
When Greenpeace activists tried to board a Russian oil rig they were accused of piracy and now face the possibility of long jail sentences. It seems that Britain treats provocation in the waters off Gibraltar in a much softer way. Of course, Britain wants to maintain good relationships with Spain but surely not at any cost. The Spanish government must be laughing at David Cameron’s softly softly approach to these matters.