Michael Sanchez, whose Twitter page describes him as a Naval observer based in the Rock, tweeted: “Unidentified Spanish Navy warship incursion into #Gibraltar waters off Eastside Currently shadowed by HMS Pursuer #OPWest @MODGibraltar @Convent_Gib”. A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirmed the Navy had acted to deal with the incident. He told Express.co.uk: “The Royal Navy challenges all incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, and did so on this occasion.”
Spanish vessels have encroached into British waters around Gibraltar on several occasions this year.
Three Royal Navy squadron ships were being trained on the water near Europa Point, Gibraltar’s southern-most point by mine hunting vessels HMS Chiddingfold and HMS Penzance when a Spanish warship trespassed and was escorted away.
In May, Spanish patrol vessel, the P43 Relampago passed near to the beaches on the east side of the British overseas territory until it was again confronted by the Royal Navy vessel.
Nor is it just the waters of Gibraltar which have witnessed such incidents.
In January a British Airways flight was delayed from both landing and taking off at Gibraltar International Airport, first by the Guardia Civil helicopter, and then by an unspecified fixed-wing plane, which both strayed into UK airspace.
Spain subsequently stoked the row by saying it did not recognise the validity of any British airspace over the Rock.
The P2000 patrol boats were stationed there after the MOD announced a £10m investment in two new fast craft for the waters around the British territory.
The crews of Dasher and Pursuer spent the past five weeks learning how to handle, operate and maintain the Archer-class craft, which are much larger and more complex than HMS Sabre and Scimitar, which protected Gibraltar’s waters for the previous 17 years.
MOD Gibraltar yesterday tweeted a clip of Sabre and Scimitar, commenting: “The two #Scimitar-class vessels were hoisted onboard #MV Anvil Point earlier this week in preparation for their return to the UK at the end of their 17years service in #Gibraltar. #endofanera @UKStratCom @ForcesNews #Dasher #Pursuer”.
The two new boats have been earmarked for replacement with Dasher and Pursuer plugging the gap until the new boats arrive.
They will arrive in the winter/spring of 2021-22 after it placed a £9.9m order with Merseyside-based Marine Specialised Technology.
When deployed, the new 19-metre boats will be armed with three machine-guns, carrying a crew of six plus up to half a dozen passengers.
Gibraltar, which has a permanent population of roughly 23,000, has been in British hands since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
However, Spain has never abandoned its claim of the tiny enclave on the southern tip of the Spanish mainland.
Gibraltarians have voted overwhelmingly to retain its links with the UK in two separate referendums.