Spanish naval vessels have conducted seven surface incursions into Gibraltar’s territorial waters over the past six months, with a further four occasions deemed to be innocent passage, according to figures released by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Situated on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, strategically situated Gibraltar is a UK overseas territory and the location of a key naval base, able to accommodate UK and Nato allied nuclear-powered submarines. Gibraltar is also the site of a key signals intelligence (SIGINT) post thought to be operated by GCHQ, the UK’s main defence SIGINT agency.

Relations between Nato allies might be assumed to be productive, cordial, and those shared by natural defence partners. However, political difference of opinion still remains, even among those that are considered friends, with Spain and the UK having regularly come to diplomatic blows over Gibraltar, with the peninsula becoming a British colony in 1713, transitioning to an overseas territory in the later 20th Century.

Spanish naval presence in Gibraltar waters

MonthInnocent passageSurface incursionTotal
Instances of Spanish naval presence in Gibraltar waters over the past six months, as of 20 September. Source: UK MoD

At the time of publishing, the UK MoD had not responded to a request for comment regarding Spanish naval incursions into Gibraltar territorial waters.

The Royal Navy recently took delivery of two new Cutlass-class fast patrol vessels to be used by the Royal Navy’s Gibraltar Squadron, which is charged with monitoring the territory’s waters and wider maritime security operations in the western Mediterranean. The squadron also operate a number of Pacific 24 rigid-hulled inflatable boats for littoral operations.

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The UK’s naval presence was further augmented in 2021 with the forward deployment of a Batch 2 River-class offshore patrol vessels, currently HMS Trent, at Gibraltar, although the vessel operates into the Atlantic waters off West Africa as well as the Mediterranean.