Chief Minister Caruana accepted the Spanish apology but underscored the serious nature of the incident, which he hoped would not happen again.
The Royal Gibraltar Police yesterday returned the RHIB to the Guardia Civil, together with four standard-issue Guardia Civil handguns and one CETME assault rifle, while the two men from Galicia who were arrested in Gibraltar after being chased here by the Guardia Civil were charged yesterday and will appear before the Magistrate’s Court this morning.
Francisco Javier Otero Magdalena, 40, and Jose Antonio Falcon Outeda, 32, both from Pontevedra in Galicia, were jointly charged with importing into Gibraltar an illegal fast launch. They have been in police custody since their arrest on Tuesday.
(The Gibraltar Chronicle, by Brian Reyes)
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
The incident began to unfold at around 19.45 on Tuesday evening when the Guardia Civil’s radar and sensor network in the Campo area spotted a suspicious boat at the northern end of the Bay of Gibraltar.
A Guardia Civil rigid hull inflatable boat [RHIB] was despatched to the scene, where it spotted another RHIB close to a US navy supply vessel that was taking fuel in the area off the refinery.
The suspicious RHIB fled toward Gibraltar, continually changing course as its two occupants tried to lose the Guardia Civil vessel in the dark, according to the Interior Ministry’s account of the incident.
Within just a few minutes travelling at high speed, they were chased deep into the heart of the port of Gibraltar, close to the GASA swimming club.
Several witnesses reported hearing gunshots as the vessels sped into the harbour basin.
“At around 7.50pm I heard some shots then a big crash,” one witness who lives in harbour Views told the Chronicle. “At that moment I thought it was a backfire from a car so I did not pay much attention to it.”
In fact, the crash was the sound of the runaway vessel running aground against the breakwater by the Harbour Views promenade, metres from residential blocks.
Its two occupants climbed over the rocks and tried to escape on foot but were caught by three of the Guardia Civil officers, who disembarked and chased them on land.
Minutes later the Royal Gibraltar Police arrived at the scene, having been alerted by residents in the area.
Local officers removed the Guardia Civil’s handguns and an assault rifle. They detained the three Spanish officers on land and a fourth man on the Spanish RHIB. The two men on the other boat were also taken into custody.
“At all times [the RGP’s treatment of the Guardia Civil officers] was very correct,” the Spanish Interior Ministry said.
The incident prompted high-level interventions from Sr Rubalcaba and senior officials at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who were in direct contact with Mr Caruana.
This followed an instruction from Miguel Angel Moratinos who was meeting his counterpart, the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in Brussels.
At an operational level, the Guardia Civil lieutenant colonel who heads the Algeciras headquarters was in direct telephone contact with RGP Commissioner Louis Wink.
By 11pm on Tuesday, the immediate tension arising from the incident had been defused and the four Spanish officers released and allowed to return to Spain.
The four men spent much of yesterday being de-briefed by senior ministry officials over the events in Gibraltar.
GUARDIA CIVIL SUPPORT
Yesterday the Asociación Unificada de la Guardias Civiles, which represents over 30,000 officers, said it would lend its “full support” to the four men and expressed concern at the recent escalation in tension in the waters around the Rock.
The AUCG said the four officers had acted properly during a “hot pursuit” that had been driven by antiterrorism concerns in the face of a suspicious vessel.
According to the AUGC, the unidentified RHIB had been spotted in the proximity of a US vessel “under Spanish vigilance and protection”.
Sources in Gibraltar confirmed that Spanish officials had given a similar explanation of the events on Tuesday.
“The AUGC cannot understand how, in an area such as this which is considered one of the hottest zones in the world for drug trafficking, immigration and the entry of Islamic terrorists, there is still no clear protocol that clarifies how both police forces should act,” the association said in a statement.
It said that criminals should be the one who suffered in these situations, not police officers serving their communities.