The Convent

16th September 1998

On the night of Monday 15 September some 15 Spanish fishing boats entered into British Territorial and Admiralty waters in Gibraltar. I have asked that a strong protest be made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid over last night's incursion.

In August, and now again this week, we have had a resumption by Spanish fishing boats of incursions into British waters. These activities have repeated the pattern which we saw in the first quarter of this year and which are quite different from the traditional practices of recent years, when the few boats entering our waters departed peacefully when asked.

Spanish fishing activities this year have been on an unprecedented scale. In the first four months of 1998, for example, there were 115 reported incursions compared to 16 in the same period in 1997. Moreover in 1998, they have tended to be larger boats, in greater numbers, with fishing equipment which contravened EU and Gibraltar laws, acting in a highly provocative manner and refusing to leave our waters when asked. This represents an unacceptable challenge to British jurisdiction and control of our waters.

In a broadcast last spring, I made it plain that we could not ignore these incidents and that I would call for additional support if necessary to enforce the law. Subsequently and for 4 months during the summer the Spanish fishermen generally acted in conformity with traditional practice.

I deplore last night's incident. Our enforcement agencies acted with the utmost restraint, as indeed they have at all times despite considerable provocation. But we cannot be intimidated. As Governor, I am responsible for law and order and therefore for the enforcement of the laws of Gibraltar. The Chief Minister and I remain in close touch on this issue. I also remain in day to day touch with the Commissioner of Police and the Commander British Forces.

The Chief Minister has made it clear, following his recent meeting with the Mayor of Algeciras (8 September), that fishing in moderation has occurred since the 1991 laws were passed, without any serious incidents, and that the Spanish fishermen generally returned home when asked to do so by the police. We both take the view that this traditional practice is acceptable providing the authority of out law enforcement agencies is respected and obeyed. It is in that context that we value good relations with out neighbours.

In the meantime, I must make it plain once again that, whilst our enforcement agencies will continue to be as restrained as is reasonable, I will not hesitate to call upon HMG's assurances to me that they will provide whatever support is necessary to enable the enforcement agencies to do their job effectively and safely.

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