Gibraltar update: Warship departs
A Royal Navy warship, HMS Westminster, has left Portsmouth for a routine visit to Gibraltar amid increased tensions with Spain over border checks.
Warship departs for routine Gibraltar visit
A Royal Navy warship has left Portsmouth for a routine visit to Gibraltar amid increased tensions with Spain over border checks.
HMS Westminster is due to dock at the British territory within a week as part of an annual deployment, Cougar 13.
It comes as increased vehicle checks at the border with Spain have led to delays for tourists and residents.
The Ministry of Defence said the visit was “long-planned” as part of “a range of regular and routine deployments”.
Spain’s foreign ministry agreed it was a routine visit, adding that the UK government had asked for permission to stop over at the Rota naval base, which is near the Strait of Gibraltar in south-west Spain.
HMS Westminster is being accompanied by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships Lyme Bay and Mounts Bay on its stop.
The BBC’s Spain correspondent, Tom Burridge, said that – while both London and Madrid had played down the timing of the visit – the boats would be arriving at a sensitive moment for British-Spanish relations, amid a diplomatic row over the territory’s status and the waters nearby.
It follows a decision by Gibraltar to drop 70 concrete blocks into the sea off its coast, with the aim of creating an artificial reef and encouraging sea-life to flourish.
The Spanish government has accused Gibraltar of laying the blocks “without the necessary authorisation” in “waters that are not theirs”, contravening environmental laws and damaging Spain’s fishing industry.
Madrid responded by increasing border controls and announcing it was considering a 50 euro (£43) fee to cross its border with Gibraltar.
As part of the Cougar 13 deployment setting sail from Portsmouth and Plymouth, four Royal Navy warships and six other vessels are heading to the Mediterranean, and then onto the Gulf region, to conduct military exercises.
After docking in Portugal, some of the boats will head on to the British military base in Gibraltar while others will head to Cadiz, in nearby southern Spain.
Thousands of Royal Navy, Royal Marines from Plymouth-based 3 Commando Brigade, and Royal Fleet Auxiliary personnel will take part in the exercise.