Gibraltar has accused Madrid of ‘childish behaviour’ after a Spanish warship ordered commercial vessels to move from British-controlled waters near the tiny territory.
It is the latest in a long string of diplomatic skirmishes over the tiny Mediterranean peninsula which has been governed by Britain since 1713 but is claimed by Spain.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the incident was ‘childish behaviour’ and an amateurish attempt at bravado which ‘achieved nothing more than to provoke’.
‘Actions such as this just create confusion and unnecessary risk to the lives of mariners. That is the nonsense that we are dealing with,’ he added in a statement.
The skirmish took place on Sunday when the crew of a Spanish navy vessel ordered commercial ships to move from waters which Gibraltar says it controls.
The crew aboard the Spanish ship can be heard ordering boats to ‘leave Spanish territorial waters’ in an audio of the incident obtained by the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper.
The government of Gibraltar called it an ‘illegal incursion which aimed to make a political point about the sovereignty of our waters.’
Spain, too, claims ownership of the waters around the self-governing territory which measures just 6.8 square kilometres and is home to about 33,000 people.
Tensions over the waters around the Gibraltar, which is strategically placed at the mouth of the Mediterranean, often erupt between Spanish and British vessels.
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Britain’s looming exit from the European Union on 29 March has raised questions about the continued flow of goods and people along Gibraltar’s border with Spain.
A draft divorce deal between London and Brussels – rejected by British MPs – sought to defuse any future tensions over Gibraltar when Britain leaves the EU on 29 March.