Gibraltar and Spain ‘just one shot’ from armed conflict

Spanish ships entering Gibraltar's territorial waters could be "mistaken for terrorists" and shot at, Gibraltar warned today in a dramatic escalation of tensions in the region.

Gibraltan chief minister Fabian Picardo said Spanish vessels might "find themselves shot at because they are not identified as the vessel of a friendly nation", if they strayed into the British territory's waters.

He said there could be dangerous confusion over "Spanish Guardia Civil vessels coming into British Gibraltar territorial waters without warning, coming in from the sun where they are not visible".

"It’s a security issue that they need to be aware of," he added.

The comments follow the refusal of a Spanish ship to leave Gibraltan waters on Monday.

The Ramon Margalef boat was confronted by a Royal Navy patrol boar but defied repeated orders to leave for 20 hours.

Yesterday Conservative MP Colonel Bob Stewart called on the government to send combat units to Gibraltan waters.

The chairman of parliament’s all party group on Gibraltar Jim Dobbin also warned the row was just one shot away from an armed conflict.

"Things are getting dangerous" he said.

"The UK and Spain are chancing each other's luck. It only takes a madman. I don't want to exaggerate the situation but the fact that [standoff] happened is worrying."

Fabian Picardo said he would welcome "the possibility of more senior assets from the Royal Navy" coming to Gibraltar.

The UK government yesterday condemned Spain's actions and summoned their ambassador for talks.

"I strongly condemn this provocative incursion and urge the Spanish government to ensure that it is not repeated," Europe minister David Lidlington said.

"We stand ready to do whatever is required to protect Gibraltar’s sovereignty, economy and security."

Tensions between Gibraltar and Spain first escalated earlier this year after the territory dropped concrete blocks into the waters surrounding the rock, officially to create an artificial reef.

Spain retaliated by stepping up border controls with Gibraltar, causing extensive delays for visitors to and from the territory.