We must stop dragging our out of date baggage behind us

Carmen Gomez

Now that the foreign affairs committee of the Moroccan parliament have passed two laws to “re-actualize” the limits of its territorial waters; aimed to assert its sovereignty over its entire maritime coasts; perhaps its time for us to once again urge the UK Government to do likewise.

In August 2014, I wrote an article entitled “England’s fisheries have access to Royal Navy;” where I wrote amongst other things that the sustainable inshore fisheries Trust was unhappy with the Scottish Government for bowing to the demands of the commercial fishing operations, in allowing trawling operations inside their 12mile limit, which apart from almost destroying stocks of herring and cod in some areas, had brought about seabed degradation. I mention this because I recall there were plans locally in 2018, to put into action a relatively long-term programme for the reintroduction of sea grass around Gibraltar waters, which would hopefully serve as a catalyst for a marine life boom.


However when I contacted the Department of the Environment in February of last year, the sea grass project in particular, had still not commenced. Having recently chatted with a well versed individual on these matters, it was his opinion that such a programme was not that easy to put into place, because amongst other things, eventually it would overspill into the political arena, which naturally includes the question of the Spanish fishermen. It is his belief that there is a definite political undertone to our much requested and entitled to, extension of our 12 mile limit. It’s all about Sovereignty of our waters at the end of the day; a sovereignty which extends to our air space over the territorial sea, as well as to its bed and sub soil; and serves for the purpose of conserving and managing the natural resources of the waters.

The curious thing in all this is that back in December 2015, ex Head of the International legal department in the Spanish Foreign Ministry, Sr. Yturriaga, told his counterparts that there was a lack of juridical foundation in their denial of Gibraltar waters. But are they listening? That according to the UN convention of 1958 on territorial waters, the sovereignty of a state extends “beyond its territory and its interior waters,” to its territorial sea. If they know this to be the case, then why does the UK government still allow there to be any discussion on the matter? The lack of action to be taken here lies with the UK Government alone. At the time when an extension to a 12 mile limit was set down, Spain entered a declaration, which unlike a reservation, does not modify the legal effect of the treaty in International law. All it does is record the view taken by Spain which; please note; no other signatory to said convention accepted or acceded to.


The thing is that when a definite and clear indication of sovereignty rights over territorial waters is not given to a country by another; in this case the UK to Spain; that country will continue to believe that their rights are being violated and will persist in their claim. This not only makes our request for an extra 12 mile limit appear to carry little or no weight, plus all this talk of the reintroduction of a sea grass bed in our waters, presents a project that will never get off the ground; seeing how the Spanish fishermen persist in fishing in our waters instead of engaging with their vast coastline. On top of which they use methods which are outlawed; like raking the sea bed. It’s not the first time that the enforcement of our Nature protection act has been breached by them. If you recall, on one of several occasions when the removal of illegal nets in our waters had been carried out, a Government press release said, that they had been located in an area where even Spain’s illegal and inapplicable designation of an environmental protection zone in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters prohibits fishing!


There are those however, who are prepared to defend their position no matter what the supposed consequences; as Canada did back in 1995. The Newfoundland President said at the time, that if the EU was not prepared to compel the Spanish to fish in accordance with its rules, then Canada was totally justified in taking whatever action was necessary. One of their naval destroyers intercepted the infringing Spanish fleet and a pursuit ensued with the Canadian coastguards firing shots over the bow of one of them. It was escorted back and there was a trial. This prompted Spain, with her support of the EU, to ready warships in response to what they called a blunt and aggressive action. Sr. Dastis in his day, if you recall, thought the UK was “losing its cool” when warships were mentioned by Lord Howard, to protect our sovereignty. But when they do it its okay! In the end, Canada not only won the day with new legislation put into place to better protect Canadian national and environmental interests, but its extra judicial use of force, helped the implementation of satellite surveillance etc. Canada was hailed as a hero for taking bold action against the Iberians.

Great change

I believe that the UK could take a page out of their book. In these unprecedented times of great change, there are matters which should be finally resolved and a conclusion reached. We can’t be expected to adhere to certain new rulings, or have to adapt to new ways of doing things, without closing a final chapter on the old ones! We must stop dragging our out of date baggage behind us. This will not serve us well in the new future we are to being asked to face.

17-01-2020 PANORAMAdailyGIBRALTAR.