Tag Archives: Gibraltar

Maritime Security: Fact or Fallacy? The View from Gibraltar

By Michael Sanchez

The recent global maritime security scenario has been deeply affected by several factors that have by necessity, changed the way of approaching and dealing with individual problems at sea. Piracy, drugs smuggling, weapon trafficking and the repugnant trade in human lives have reemerged with particular virulence but of paramount concern and indeed priority is the ominous threat of seaborne terrorism. Most of us witnessed to our horror the murder of innocent tourists in a beach at Tunisia. The execution of this attack came from what appears to be a well coordinated plan that took everyone by surprise. The proliferation of fast RHIBs (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats) and jet ski type vessels have given terrorists flexibility of speed and the ability of evasion that gives them a distinct advantage as they are able to mix and mingle with other craft and raise less suspicion when choosing their targets Not only are these fast vessels in the inventory of terrorists but they are the preferred method of transport by drug smuggling gangs

In the case of Gibraltar it can be said with  concern that by the nature of our geographical position we are exposed to the threats of terrorism. It’s no use hiding behind the fact that North Africa lies 14 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar (STROG) and pretending it will not affect us sooner or later, directly or indirectly. Morocco has been subjected to attacks within its territory but has been successful in thwarting seaborne assaults against shipping in the strait including warships but they cannot do it all on their own. The Spanish enclave of Ceuta has been the recruiting ground for potential jihadist recruits that consequently find their way to Syria and/or Iraq. The North African coastline opposite Gibraltar can be considered a launch pad for vessels that trade in drugs, humans and other illicit activities. All stakeholders in the vicinity, Gibraltar, Morocco, and Spain have a duty to ensure that the malignant barbarity of present day terrorism does not cross the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe via this vulnerable route. To repulse any sort of seaborne attacks everyone must be prepared and not fall into one of mankind’s many weakness Complacency

As far as Gibraltar is concerned the responsibility for the maritime security of Gibraltar Territorial Waters falls under very awkward operational procedures and tasking. The MOD through the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron is tasked with, according to its mission statement “To contribute to the maritime defence and security of Gibraltar and when necessary, the prosecution of offensive maritime operations in order to allow BFG to support military ops as directed by HMG.” Quite a mouthful and perhaps ambiguous but it’s not the intention to assess the political ramifications of such a broad statement. Bearing all this in mind, the security of HM Naval Base Gibraltar falls into question. Every time a naval vessel is berthed alongside South Mole or “The Tower” a boom is placed across the harbour from South Mole to the old Gun wharf site. It consists of small orange buoys held in position by floaters and strung across with rope. This is to prevent unauthorised craft from entering the security cordon. The security boom is totally inadequate and useless. Any determine driver of a jet ski or RHIB can “jump” this boom and instantly find itself within a restricted area.

The MOD should invest in purpose built security booms that protect warships, particularly submarines in naval bases around the world. It has not gone unnoticed that since 2013 there has been an increase of RN nuclear power submarines visiting the naval base. Various operational tasks have been carried out including transfer of weaponry that demand the highest levels of security. This cannot be guaranteed with a weak protective boom that can be easily penetrated. On the fifth of July a drug smuggling jet ski entered the harbour through the southern entrance whilst HMS Ambush was alongside South Mole. Luckily, the intruder turned left and not right. The inadequacy of this security boom is a glaring capability gap that can be exploited by the enemy. Within this boom the task of protecting these warships is carried out efficiently by the GDP (Gibraltar Defence Police). Despite being equipped with 2 slow and aging ex Range Safety craft that are not fit for purpose they stick to their duty of affording port force protection but their response time to a fast intruder is minimal. GDP were to be equipped with modern patrol craft some time ago but it was decided otherwise to renege on it, another UK base benefitting from these new craft. For years there has been a succession of UK politicians and high ranking military officers trumpeting and touting the importance of Gibraltar as a base for UK ops. It’s time they put their money where their mouths are and transmit their thoughts into deeds.

Leaving aside the MOD estates we come to the protection of the civilian population which is by and large entrusted to the marine section of the Royal Gibraltar Police. This service boasts the most modern and fast craft to carry out their duties. There is a certain overlapping of responsibilities with the RN that due to constitutional obligations muddies the waters as to who is responsible for what when and how. This is rather unhelpful when it comes to tackling a potential terrorist threat. We are led to believe that there is coordination when it comes to security matters at sea but to a plain simple observer it does not appear to be so. A more robust communication environment should be encouraged to interchange ideas thoughts and indeed intelligence on a regular basis, not on ad hoc terms. To use a well worn phase everyone should be “singing from the same hymn sheet” instead of tearing out pages so that the other sings out of tune.

Gibraltar-body

Gibraltar’s important maritime security infrastructure requires overhauling and redesigning. Our hugely important cruise liner industry can sometimes walk a tight rope when it comes to passenger and owner satisfaction. Cruise liners are vulnerable and a tempting target. On very few occasions are cruise ships escorted to and from the liner terminal by law enforcement craft and there is no seaward protection whilst alongside North Mole. This would prevent any unwanted or inquisitive boats from getting too close for comfort. We must bear in mind that although Cruise liners companies might be satisfied with ashore security arrangements any incident no matter how small or insignificant at sea could cause them to leave and this would destroy an important pillar of our economy. Why not go the extra mile and provide seaside security to such an important gem in our crown? It will enhance our reputation amongst cruise line companies as a serious port of call in which to do business with.

What cannot be allowed to happen again is a situation similar to that of the theft of one our reef blocks from under our noses. This was a highly embarrassing event that exposed a certain lack of supervision of Gibraltar Territorial Waters. It highlighted the absence of coordination in patrolling our waters. Each to their own without knowing who was doing what and where. Naturally there were local law enforcement craft swarming over the area next day but the horse had bolted and the stable was empty

These are but a few of the more noticeable flaws in the protection of our little country. I accept the fact that security cannot be 100% guaranteed but it can be made extremely difficult for anyone attempting to threaten our peace and stability. It serves no purpose to find faults and criticize without offering suggestions and ideas in which to improve the protection of our waters from dynamic situations that confront our day to day lives. With the expansion of yachting facilities at Ocean Village and the proposed reclamation at the Eastside there will be an increase in the load factor for law enforcement agencies in maintaining a safe maritime picture. A maritime surveillance system similar to the Spanish SIVE (Systema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior) should be considered as an aid to combating illegal activities close to our shores This system comprises of radars, infrared cameras and other surveillance equipment placed at strategic sites and controlled by an operations room. Any information gathered by this system can be transmitted to civilian law enforcement vessels (RGP HM Customs Port Authority) in real time via video link. It will make the task of intercepting suspect vessels easier and with ample time. The introduction of a joint maritime control centre is  of vital importance. It is of huge value that all incidents be controlled “under one roof” thereby improving response times and rapid interventions. Everyone working together instead of pulling away from each should be encouraged. Pooling of resource can be an effective method of dealing with certain events/actions whilst each law enforcement agency maintaining their independence and freedom of movement in their particular field of responsibilities. Joint training exercises whether live or in tabletop format can be useful in honing particular skills and at the same time exchanging operational experiences. Of course the major stumbling block is finance as all these suggestions do not come cheaply, but in the long term it is an investment that will pay dividends by ensuring the adequate protection of life and property.

I am by no means advocating a “Fortress Gibraltar” bristling with guns missiles and military hardware. Life must go on as normal. In the present climate of economic prosperity and physical expansion it has to be top priority that to accommodate a thriving yacht industry, the protection of bunkering facilities, the secure operations of cruise liners and importantly the safety of local seafarers fishermen and pleasure boat owners the necessary infrastructure to enable Gibraltar to maintain its reputation as a competitive serious and reliable player in the maritime industry must be in place so that we hopefully never become an easy target for our foes whoever they may be

Michael Sanchez is a naval observer and commentator for Gibraltar & STROG. He is the founder of OpWest and the promoter of Gibraltar Coast Watchers, and explained the former’s operation in an interview with CIMSEC. Born in the Rock, he served as a police officer for 33 years before retiring. He tweets at @key2med

Gibraltar: Legal Advice on Innocent Passage

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While tensions over the South China Sea often prompt headlines, attracting a great deal of attention by analysts, the dispute over Gibraltar has a much smaller presence in the media and specialized publications. However, given its location at a vital chokepoint, the conflict over the Rock cannot be ignored by naval and maritime observers. Furthermore, for the student of comparative conflict at sea it is interesting to look at some of its features, including disputes over the law of the sea and resort to non-lethal asymmetric warfare, which we also find elsewhere. A third reason is Gibraltar’s role in the air reinforcement strategy for the defence of the Falklands, an issue that China watchers are increasingly paying attention to, given Beijing’s growing interest in the South Atlantic, including Namibia.

Just like in the South China Sea, one of the aspects of the dispute over Gibraltar concerns the concept of “Innocent Passage”. In the case of the Rock, intruding warships have often claimed to be engaged in this regime, recognized by international law, both customary and UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). However, Gibraltar’s authorities have rejected such claims, arguing that they were a mere excuse to justify incursions into British Territorial Waters. In order to reinforce their case, Gibraltar’s government announced in November 2014 that it had commissioned an expert legal opinion on the definition of innocent passage under UNCLOS. The latest string of incidents prompted the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) to ask the Rock’s authorities whether the opinion had been received, and they replied confirming it had. According to the GBC, the opinion explains that “A vessel can only be considered to be on innocent passage through British Gibraltar Territorial Waters if it’s moving continuously and expeditiously, and is not engaged in any activities that are prejudicial to Gibraltar or the UK”, adding that “when it appears objectively from the foreign vessel’s behaviour that its purpose in passing through BGTW is to assert its country’s sovereignty claim over the waters, its passage would not be deemed to be innocent under international law.”1

HMS Scimitar escorting Spanish Govt vessel Emma Bardan out of BGTWs
HMS Scimitar escorting Spanish Govt vessel Emma Bardan out of BGTWs

On reading the GBC report, Luke Coffey, Margaret Thatcher Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, The Heritage Foundation, tweeted “Spain in violation of UNCLOS, Article19 (Meaning of innocent passage), paragraph 2C, 2D, 2J, probably 2K and 2L!!”.2 These passages of UNCLOS read:

Meaning of innocent passage

1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;

(d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;

(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;

(k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;

(l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage”.

It could also be argued that incursions into Gibraltar’s territorial waters amount to a violation of paragraph (a) of the mentioned UNCLOS article, which reads “ any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations”, given that they take place in parallel with a denial of the British sovereignty over the Rock and her population’s right to self-determination.

However, innocent passage is a key concept in the law of the sea, and cannot be easily dismissed. Any attempt to deny that a warship moving through territorial waters enjoys it must be approached with care. This was made clear by James Kraska, a professor at the US Naval War College, who also commented on the Gibraltar report. Kraska stressed on Twitter that a “[t]hreat may not be implied based on mere presence, but must be overt, such as statement or action, such as fire control radar,” adding “See Jackson Hole Agreement; purpose of trip irrelevant; must have overt violation of art. 19 to be not innocent.”3 This refers to the 1989 USA-USSR Joint Statement With Attached Uniform Interpretation of Rules of International Law Governing Innocent Passage, known as “Jackson Hole Agreement”, whose text states that “All ships, including warships, regardless of cargo, armament or means of propulsion, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea in accordance with international law, for which neither prior notification nor authorization is required”, in accordance with UNCLOS.

A difference between Cold War maritime confrontations and the dispute over Gibraltar is that in the former, it was the limits of innocent passage, which were disputed, ultimately leading to the 1989 Joint Statement. However, in the case of the Rock, vessels violating her territorial waters claim that those waters do not exist. Another difference to take into account is that while ramming featured in a number of incidents during the Cold War, the context was mainly a threat of conventional war at sea. On the other hand, what we are now seeing in regions like the South China Sea is mainly non-lethal warfare, featuring a complex mix of coastguards and other state agencies, fishing boats, maritime militias, and oil rigs. In Asia, this phenomenon is called the “gray zone” between peace and war. This does not mean that the conventional force is irrelevant, since what we are facing in the South China Sea is a dual war akin to the Second Indochina War on land. Concerning Gibraltar, the fact that intruding ships purport to conduct “sovereignty” patrols means that their passage is not innocent within the meaning of Article 19 of UNCLOS. The very purpose of those incursions is to undermine the “peace, good order, and security” of the territorial waters of the United Kingdom.

Could the legal opinion provided to Gibraltar’s Government have any influence on the legal dispute over the South China Sea? As is often the case, lawyers on both sides may find something to support their respective views. On the one hand, maritime democracies are bound to benefit from any obstacle to further incursions into British Territorial Waters, which not only run directly against the concept of rule of law at sea and peaceful resolution of disputes, but make it difficult for the European Union to play a role in the South China Sea. On the other hand, China may expand the notion that a warship moving through territorial waters is not engaged in innocent passage when making a territorial claim, arguing that neither is she when contesting a territorial claim. The challenge, however, remains how to distinguish lawful innocent passage, no matter how disliked by the coastal state, from genuine threats to “peace, good order, or security” of the coastal state. Kraska underlines that for this analysis, we must fall back on the Charter of the United Nations, which forbids the “threat or use of force.” A factor not to be forgotten is Beijing’s permanent seat at the UNSC, meaning that whatever interpretation of the UN charter may prevail among maritime democracies, it is unlikely to make it into a Security Council resolution if it is seen by China as detrimental to her national security. Recent months have seen many proposals concerning a reinforced presence by maritime democracies in waters claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea, and the airspace over them, as well as a number of incidents involving warships and planes in those same waters. The former include a study by Scott Cheney-Peters on joint air patrols, whose main purpose would be “to counter excessive claims and rights not in accordance with international law.”

It would be interesting to see the full text of the legal opinion commissioned by Gibraltar’s Government. In any case, the information released about it should serve as a reminder that in a global, inter-connected, world, each maritime dispute may certainly be unique, but it makes sense to study them from a comparative perspective, among other reasons because in both diplomacy (including public diplomacy) and international legal and arbitration proceedings, anything considered as a precedent may be used to defend one’s position.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College, 23 December 2013, available here, can be found at https://nagoya-u.academia.edu/AlexCalvo

1Source kindly pointed out by Michael J. Sanchez, founder of OP-WEST. An interview with Sanchez, where he explains the origins and work of OP-WEST, is available at A. Calvo, “OP-WEST: Open Source Intel in Contested Maritime Spaces”, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 April 2015, http://cimsec.org/op-west-open-source-intel-contested-maritime-spaces/15718

2 Tweet by @LukeDCoffey dated 18 August 2015.

3 Tweets by @JamesKraska dated 19 August 2015.

OP-WEST: Open Source Intel in Contested Maritime Spaces

An interview with Michael J. Sanchez

Introduction. While the Indian-Pacific Ocean, and in particular the South and East China Seas, have attracted the most media and scholarly attention in recent years, the use of limited force in contested maritime spaces can also be observed in other corners of the world, even among NATO allies. The case of Gibraltar is interesting, among other reasons, because it features the collection and distribution of open source intelligence by local citizens. In a world where the lines between the military, coastguard and police forces, other state agencies, and private sector operators, are increasingly blurred, this initiative should be of interest to anybody who follows maritime and naval issues. Welcome to OpWest, a non-for-profit private initiative.

1.- What is OpWest and how was it born?

OP West is a naval/maritime observation service for the Bay of Gibraltar and Strait of Gibraltar (STROG). It commenced in June 2011. The concept is primarily to to make people aware of the daily occurences within the Bay of Gibraltar and its surrounding sea area known as British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTWs). This is as a result of Spanish pressure and non recognition of the administration/competency/jurisdiction of these waters by Gibraltar, resulting in confrontations. This pressure by Spain is a resurrection of its outdated policy to claim the soveriegnty of the Rock of Gibraltar.

OP West also serves to highlight and inform the public of illegal incursions by Spanish State vessels that occur on an almost daily basis and are a cause for concern and alarm to many. OP West strives to inform the general public of naval affairs within STROG as reasonabily and responsibly as possible. OP West is vigilant to help provide and promote navigational safety.

2.- Could you tell us a bit more about its historical precedents?

The origins of OP West can be traced back to 1977 as a simple hobby of recording warship arrivals at Her Majestys Naval Base Gibraltar(HMNBG).

3.- How is information collected?

Information is gathered rather painstakingly on a daily basis by scouring for open source material in internet, newspapers,radio/television and oral reports. This is then put together, analized and a picture formed. Rather like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The most important factor is the human element. Experience over a vast amount of years of observation provides one with the necessary expertise in the process of identification of vessels and the interpretation of actions.

4.- Are you planning to deploy any drone or unmanned vessel as part of OpWest?

There is no intention of operating any drones or other unmanned craft. Outside the remit and aims of OP West.

5.- In addition to your Twitter account (@key2med ), how is information spread?

Most information is distributed via social media(Twitter) and other contacts.

6.- Is OPSEC (operational security) a concern? How do you ensure that information is not used by terrorists or criminals?

OPSEC is always at the forefront of OP Wests concerns when making decisions to disseminate information. All information gathered is carefully evaluated. Any sightings or observations that might be deemed as prejudicial are either time lapsed, exact locations and headings not given, or in many cases not at all. OP West takes OPSEC extremely seriously.

7.- Given rising tensions between Russia and NATO, and the former’s use of the nearby port of Ceuta as a de facto base, have you perceived any increased interest in OpWest?

There has definitely been an upsurge of interest in OP Wests reporting of Russian Naval movements in and out of Ceuta particulary, since it is one of the few sources if any that provides this service.

8.- An incident in 2013 featured divers, how can such incursions be detected?

I believe the incident in question involved Guardia Civil divers. This was in August 2013. The Spanish divers photographed and measured a series of cement blocks laid by the Government of Gibraltar to promote an artifical reef for environmental purposes within BGTWs. This was a flagrant breach of sovereignty . Months later a block was actually removed by Spanish civilian divers in defiance of our jurisidiction in these waters .It was indeed a theft of Government property.

These incidents highligted the lack of supervision on the part of the local law enforcement agencies and their inability to protect BGTWs.

Little can be done to stop these underwater incursions but better and more patrolling of BGTWs is of paramount importance. There should always be at least one vessel at sea on a 24hrs basis. Sadly this is lacking.

9.- Do you believe OpWest’s experience may be useful in other contested maritime spaces featuring revisionist powers?

OpWest is willing to impart on experience gained over the years to anyone with legitimate aims.

10.- Do you expect the number of incidents to keep rising this year?

Very difficult question. Short answer is yes. If the Partido Popular wins the next elections, there can be no doubt that these unwanted illegal incursion will continue and undoudtedly increase.

On a personal note OP West is run by 2 persons who have the dedication and duty to protect our small country from ANY sort of aggression. We love our little bit of land. We were born here as so our ancestors going back over 300 years. OP West provides a unique service. Hundreds of man hours are spent on lookout It can be an unforgiving task at times. OP West can complement and support local law enforcement agencies in their duties, but sadly this has not been taken up. Indeed in some circles OP West is viewed with contempt. We are not going away. Not by any strecth of the imagination. We only ask for respect and acknowledgement of our work. Lots of people have given up their lives to give us free speech and the right to inform and be informed, We owe it to them.

Interview by Alex Calvo, member of CIMSEC.

Gibraltar – Getting Bumpy

GibraltarJust a little news item from the BBC about the latest in a series of armed stand-offs in Gibraltar, this time resulting in a “minor collision:”

The Ministry of Defence has accused a Guardia Civil patrol boat of “manoeuvring in a provocative and dangerous manner in the vicinity of Royal Navy vessels”.

No shots were fired in the incident.

But there was a minor collision between the Spanish vessel and a Gibraltar Defence Police boat.

The incident happened on Wednesday while the Gibraltar Squadron was providing force protection to a Royal Navy Fleet Auxiliary tanker in Gibraltarian territorial waters.

According to the Gibraltar Chronicle, the Spanish patrol boat Rio Tormes sailed too close to a Royal Navy vessel after breaching a security cordon off the British territory.

Armed crew members on HMS Scimitar ordered the Spanish vessel to leave the area but the Guardia Civil vessel reportedly ignored the warning, resulting in a stand-off.