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Navy warship arrives in Gibraltar
Royal Navy warship HMS Westminster has arrived at Gibraltar for a scheduled visit ahead of exercises in the Mediterranean.
The long-planned arrival of the Type 23 frigate comes the day after more than 40 commercial Spanish boats staged a protest over a controversial reef that has sparked a diplomatic row between Britain and Spain and retaliatory delays at the border with the British Overseas Territory.
Westminster is visiting ahead of the Cougar 13 wargames, which also include the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and the flagship HMS Bulwark.
A Spanish Guardia Civil patrol boat passed close to the military area of Gibraltar harbour not long after HMS Westminster arrived. The Spanish boat passed outside the harbour walls in Gibraltar Bay before speeding off when a police launch approached it.
The Spaniards made an illegal incursion into British waters around the rock on Sunday, led by a group of around 38 fishing boats plus a small number of pleasure craft. They were "corralled" by Royal Gibraltar Police, customs and military vessels close to an artificial reef created by the government of the British Overseas Territory.
Tensions between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar's dropping of concrete blocks to the sea floor, creating a reef, have escalated during the last fortnight. Spain says it was done to disrupt its fishing fleet. Gibraltar says it was necessary to protect local fish stocks and that only one Spanish vessel was fishing the area before the reef was created.
The arrival of HMS Westminster, a type 23 frigate, is not part of Britain's response to the growing row. The vessel left Portsmouth naval base in Hampshire six days ago to join nine other vessels taking part in the pre-planned international training exercise in the Mediterranean and Gulf.
Cougar 13 is a long-planned deployment involving four Royal Navy warships, the lead commando group from 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and elements of naval air squadrons.
Sunday's protest prompted calls for renewed efforts, involving the European Union, to solve the diplomatic dispute which has seen Madrid introduce additional checks at the border in protest, leaving workers and tourists facing hours in queues to get through.
Downing Street declined to rule out the use of retaliatory political action if the situation was not resolved quickly. It has been reported that UK officials are examining the potential to disrupt Spain's lucrative tourist industry as well as blocking its policy initiatives at the EU. Pressed repeatedly on the potential for such action, a Number 10 spokesman told reporters at a Westminster briefing: "Our preference here is to resolve this via political means and through dialogue with the Spanish government."