Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested firing paintballs at Spanish ships trespassing in Gibraltar’s waters, it has been reported.
According to The Sun here, Williamson floated the idea of using paintball guns to fire at passing Spanish ships to scare them off.
“The chiefs had earlier managed to talk out Mr Williamson from sending a destroyer to Ceuta in tit for tat revenge as a too provocative a move that could lead to conflict.”
The article also goes on to explain that Gibraltar registered almost more than 1,800 intrusions into its waters last year.
“The incursions counted are either by Spanish navy ships, Guardia Civil vessels or state customs boats.”
Williamson’s aides last night appeared to suggest he had been joking about firing paintballs.
Last month, a Spanish warship sailed through the waters of the British territory of Gibraltar, reportedly blasting the Spanish national anthem on loudspeakers. However, some sources have disputed claims that the national anthem was played.
The ship was the Infanta Elena, a Descubierta class corvette dating from 1980.
Spanish actions in and around Gibraltar are frequent, just last month, a Royal Navy vessel fired a warning flare after Spanish Guardia Civil vessel got too close to nuclear submarine HMS Talent. It is understood that HMS Talent was departing Gibraltar after having her Tomahawk missile stores replenished.
Last year, the USS Newport News, a Los Angeles class submarine, was harassed as she visited Gibraltar. Local media reported at the time that eyewitnesses said a Spanish customs boat was intercepted by a Gibraltar Defence Police vessel after it came too close to the US submarine. The report states:
“If classed as an incursion, the incident will almost certainly draw a diplomatic protest, as happens as a matter of routine with all incursions by Spanish state vessels.”
These aren’t isolated incidents, late last year the Royal Navy were forced to chase off a Spanish vessel as it cut across the path of a visiting US Naval vessel in Gibraltar, the USNS Carson City.
In addition, last May a Spanish patrol boat reportedly tried to “hassle” an American nuclear submarine attempting to dock at Gibraltar.
According to multiple sources, flares were fired across the bow of the Spanish Guardia Civil vessel Rio Cedena in mid-April as it twice attempted to sail across the front of the American ballistic missile submarine USS Florida, a 20,000 ton Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine.
The value of Gibraltar was recently explored by one of our writers in ‘We Will Rock You – The Resilience and Importance of Gibraltar‘, which discusses why Britain, despite the complication of politics and the time, takes the cost and effort it takes to deploy and station military assets and personnel despite the damage to relations with Spain and other nations whom side with the Spanish over the issue of its sovereignty.
The obvious military advantage of Gibraltar is that its geographic position enables pooling of resources for quick deployment throughout the Mediterranean which can be achieved by either air or sea with its dedicated naval port and air base. But another, and often overlooked, reason which simply cannot be ignored is the ability to gather intelligence which the Rock of Gibraltar brings.
Standing over 30 meters taller than the highest point of the Empire State Building the Rock historically enabled a visual long range vantage point into Spain, the Mediterranean Sea and Morocco that could be used to spot enemy movements which Britain could take the necessary pre-emptive measures against. This is still the case today, but rather than only a visual vantage; the rise of technology coupled with the height of the Rock enables an audible vantage where the military are able to both transmit and receive communications over great distances.
This is aided by the Rock itself being a natural structure made of limestone; meaning it is completely maintenance free, with exception to pathways and roads, and is soft enough to create a tunnelling system as was constructed during both the 18th century Siege and the Second World War, yet is strong enough to maintain safe footing and load-bearing’s.
The string of events occurring between the 18th century and leading through to the current day has demonstrated time upon time again that the sovereign territory of Gibraltar has both a military and economic strategic importance. However, these events, as important and well-documented as they are, seem outshone by Gibraltar’s cultural importance as a symbol of national resilience and strength. Gibraltar has remained staunch in its defiance to the numerous overt and covert attacks over the last 300 plus years which has nurtured a culture of dedication and loyalty amongst the locals. This was exemplified in the 2002 referendum where they were asked whether Britain and Spain should share sovereignty – resulting in 98% of Gibratarians saying it should remain British.