Questions in Parliament about Gibraltar's territorial waters

The recent statement by the British Government in the House of Commons on the question of Gibraltar?s territorial waters has not addressed the concerns aired by the Opposition in relation to the questions of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control over the waters around Gibraltar.

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Keetch asked two questions last week in relation to the wreck of HMS Sussex and the territorial waters of Gibraltar. The questions sought to establish why the United Kingdom had not claimed the twelve nautical miles of territorial sea on the east side of Gibraltar.

In reply, the Minister with responsibility for Gibraltar Douglas Alexander MP replied that what is believed could be the wreck of HMS Sussex lies outside British waters, in international waters. He also explained that under international law states can choose to extend their territorial sea up to twelve miles. He added that where ?the coasts of two States are opposite or adjacent, the general rule is that neither is entitled, unless they agree otherwise, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line. The UK Government considers that a limit of three nautical miles is sufficient in the case of Gibraltar.?

The GSLP/Liberal oppostion adds: It is absolutely clear under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea that non-self governing territories like Gibraltar have a right to the same twelve mile limit on same basis as nation states and consequently the UK government cannot determine that Gibraltar should be an exception to this rule and that in Gibraltar?s case three miles is enough. The only conceivable explanation is that it has not been extended in the past because the UK did not want to do anything that might upset Spain.

The answer given to Parliament, ignores the fact that Spain has already extended its territorial sea twelve nautical miles, and that this is precisely why Spanish courts and law enforcement agencies have claimed jurisdiction over the sea where the wreck is believed to be located. The Spanish authorities have argued that the American company which is conducting the salvage must do so in accordance with Spanish law. This is totally unacceptable to the Opposition.

In addition to this, it will be recalled that Madrid entered a reservation at the time of its ratification of the UN Law of the Sea Convention that its ratification ?cannot be construed as recognition of any rights or status regarding the maritime space of Gibraltar that are not included in Article X of the Treaty of Utrecht of 13 July 1713.?

The Spanish Government position was repeated in a formal, official statement by the Spanish Foreign Ministry in response to a press release issued by the Governor of Gibraltar.

The Opposition believes that the question of sovereignty, jurisdiction and control over the waters around Gibraltar is not something that can be simply brushed under the carpet. The salvage of HMS Sussex has raised a number of serious issues and the Opposition is convinced that the United Kingdom should settle the matter once and for all by claiming twelve miles of territorial sea on the east side.