Guardia Civil operating as if Gibraltar's waters belong to them
|by Leo Olivero,
speaking from experience as he
commanded the police operation in 1999
One of Spain’s principal enforcement elements the ‘Guardia Civil’ (GC) is now operating and acting as if the waters surrounding the Rock, British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW), belong to them!
The PP Government over the last few weeks have created such a national issue regarding the ‘fishing dispute’ which Madrid has quickly turned into one primarily regarding Sovereignty of Gibraltar Waters.
I speak from personal policing experience. In fact the Spanish Government have whipped up such a surge of Spanish nationalistic emotions regarding this matter, one that has spread across the media and affected enforcement agencies to the point that the latter are now entering BGTW at will and conducting their own planned enforcement operations (protecting the fishermen) notwithstanding the fact that it is not their jurisdiction!
This is a very dangerous situation to police; I say this from personnel policing experience having been directly involved at senior police command level with the last 1998/99 fishing dispute.
From a policing perspective the present situation appears to be a volatile state of affairs, one which appears to be developing daily. There are many parallels between how tension is building now, and the situation 13 years ago during the last fishing dispute.
People have to understand that policing out at sea is a totally different ball game, mainly because of the environment which is completely different than on land, particularly when it involves such a high profile and volatile issue. Marine policing is not only a different environment, but you are on a boat/launch, slightly off balance most of the time, there are many other factors that influence policing decisions out in the sea, particularly where it concerns safety, which must always be paramount in anything you do.
The Guardia Civil are adopting similar operational tactics as they need in 1999, by entering BGTW to protect Spanish fishing vessels, although I would say this time round they appear a lot more brazen in their actions, obviously caused by having had open public support from their government to enter Gibraltar waters at will, and conduct their operations to protect the fishermen in our waters, ignoring the local authority.
Back in 1999 there was also some very serious incidents with the GC, of course also with the Spanish fishermen themselves. I have to say that there was great frustration within policing circles back in 1999, which I suspect is the same that must also exists now during the present problems in the bay.
It is normal for the RGP and GDP and the Royal Navy who would wish to put an end to all these Spanish incursions and illegal encroachment into BGTW by the GC, but this is not about going into physical war with Spain, as much as many people would like it to happen!
Even though Spain who is an ‘EU Member and a NATO Alliance Ally’ is not acting or behaving as a Friendly Neighbour, if fact more like a complete despot at that. But even with that description of Spain there cannot be any blood spilled certainly no lives lost or put at risk.
13 years ago the British Government were not interested in sending reinforcement over, the nearest we got was when the then British Foreign Office Minister Joyce Quin said in the UK parliament that “the deployment of a fisheries protection vessel, to aid in calming the situation in British waters around Gibraltar, remains one of a number of options we are considering” options that were never really taken up!
In fact it was left to the local authorities to deal with which was the case, this when a massive combined agency (including Royal Navy Gib Squad) operation was conducted, where I prepared the operational order and commanded the execution of the plan. And where later we arrested the very large Spanish fishing vessel ‘Piranha’ based in Algeciras, for fishing, with 15 crew and recovered 50 cases of fish on board!
We were all frustrated then, as I’m sure people (police and others) are today, I actually spent the best part of 12 months practically every night out in the bay putting up with all the Spanish antics, the same as we are witnessing today.
But this type of policing in my opinion is all about biding your time and picking the right moment, that is, if diplomacy does not prevail!
I would be hugely surprised if plans are not afoot already to tackle this issue out at sea from a completely different manner by the police and others. And I’ll leave it at that, you can use your imagination to what I am referring to.
This is why the meeting today between Margallo and Hague in London is hugely important. If there is no political agreement regarding this issue, particularly one that will lower tensions, then the risk of someone getting seriously hurt will get even higher, because Spain is talking as if the waters around Gibraltar were already theirs, or as if Gibraltar never legally had any waters at all!
THIS IS NOT 1713
It is up to the British Government to bring the Spanish Government back down to earth and remind them that this is 2012 and not 1713 when Spain’s favourite Treaty ‘Utrecht' was signed during the different world that existed then!