MADRID (AP) — Spanish police vessels and a customs helicopter illegally entered and violated the territorial waters and airspace of the tiny British territory of Gibraltar on the southwestern tip of Spain, officials said Sunday.
British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire said Spanish vessels “repeatedly entered” the area without properly notifying Gibraltarian authorities.
He said although the incursions were believed to be part of the pursuit of a suspected drug-smuggling speedboat, the actions were unlawful.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Spain’s chase, which included the customs helicopter flying low over his territory, were a display of “bravado” that backfired by allowing one suspected drug smuggler to escape, although two others, both Spaniards, were arrested.
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Picardo said that at one point the Spanish vessels were in hot pursuit through British waters of the suspected smugglers as they dumped bales of what were believed to be drugs off the side of a high-speed inflatable boat.
This is the latest in a long line of disputes between Spain and Britain over the territory, which the Royal Navy uses as naval base and whose population numbers about 30,000 people.
Spain ceded sovereignty of Gibraltar to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, but has persistently sought its return.
Picardo lamented the lack of cooperation between forces and said, “We all want to stop the drug smugglers.”
Spanish authorities couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.