Friday, February 04, 2005

Gibraltar protests as London understates repairs

Peter Caruana, Chief Minister, is to make a protest to London today after the MOD deliberately understated the repairs it has to carry out on the nuclear submarine HMS Sceptre that arrived into port yesterday afternoon.

Gibraltar’s protest is not at the repairs but at the fact that whilst Spain was fully informed Gibraltar had been kept in the dark as to the extent of the problems.

There appears to be no question of a nuclear related fault and the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has already assured Spain that the submarine will be gone in a week. But whilst Gibraltar was told the repairs would be external, to the casing and fin, it emerged that it had spent the day in exchanges with Madrid detailing that repairs would be carried out to the cooling system of the diesel engine.

Mr Caruana confirmed to the Chronicle that although the Government has no problem with such non-nuclear repairs the fact was that it had only heard about this internal fault with HMS Sceptre from the Spanish press and Spanish sources. He had only been told that the repairs would include the casing, the fin and periscope.

After summoning the British Ambassador for an explanation Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spanish Foreign Minister, called in Madrid journalists to read a brief statement where he made clear that this was not a ‘Tireless’ repeat but to protest at Britain’s handling of the matter. He wanted no repeats of any repairs to nuclear submarines and said that his Secretary of State Bernardino Leon had lodged a formal protest. He said that Spain will maintain vigilance over this issue.

We have asked that in future no nuclear submarines carry out repairs of this type in Gibraltar – whatever the nature or scale of the fault. We hope that we can recover for the future the tranquillity in what is co-operation with Britain which we hope will be as fruitful as possible,” said Sr Moratinos.

The Chronicle understands that Spain had in fact been informed of the visit by Britain well ahead of arrival.

The vessel, which has just undergone a major refit in Britain is heading for operational duty. Its arrival has prompted wide protest in the Campo and amongst ecologists and environmental groups as well as political forces. Ecologistas en Acción called on Mr Caruana to ask for a ban on nuclear submarine visits.

Earlier yesterday a British Forces spokesman said:

HMS Sceptre is one of Britain’s five Swiftsure class submarines and was built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering in Barrow-in-Furness. She was launched on 20 Nov 1976 and commissioned on 14 Feb 1978. She is staying in Gibraltar for a routine visit and will be making final preparations for her operational deployment. Members of the public may notice scaffolding being used; this is to enable the crew to carry out routine maintenance on the submarine’s outer casing and fin.


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