Tuesday, October 18, 2005

MOD torpedo Juarez protest

• ‘Keep out of it’ says Opposition

Juan Carlos Juárez, the Mayor of La Línea, vented his anger last weekend on hearing news that the Royal Navy was sending a nuclear submarine to Gibraltar as part of the Battle of Trafalgar celebrations next week.

“There is growing indignation in the Campo de Gibraltar and specifically in La Linea at the British Government's arrogant attitude and the constant provocation of visits by nuclear powered submarines to these waters,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

But Sr Juárez appears to have jumped the gun because according to official British military sources, there will be no submarine visit next week.

The root of the misunderstanding is a press advisory notice issued by Headquarters British Forces last week, in which a visit to an SSN’ - military speak for a nuclear submarine – was tentatively pencilled in. Were it not for the sensitivities north of the border, it would have been a simple media trip: a visit to a Trafalgar class submarine to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Yesterday, a second statement from HQBF tried to clear the air of controversy.

"A prominent politician in the Campo de Gibraltar has suggested that a British nuclear submarine will arrive in Gibraltar on 28th October,” the statement said.

“The Ministry of Defence wishes to confirm that no submarine visits to Gibraltar are envisaged to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar.”


Opposition Anger

While that clarification from the British MoD might help to ease concerns in the Campo de Gibraltar, it came too late to stop political reaction in Gibraltar to the La Línea mayor’s comments.

“Sr Juarez appears to be incapable of understanding that the frontier between Gibraltar and La Linea is an international frontier demarcating the national sovereignty between his country and ours,” said the GSLP/Liberals opposition in a statement.

“Spanish territory ends at La Linea and British territory commences and applies from the moment that people show their passport and exit Spain.

Clearly, if such considerations apply as regards the area of the frontier and the airport where British military aircraft come and go as they please without having to seek the permission of Spain (notwithstanding the Spanish myth that the isthmus belongs to Spain) it applies with even greater strength and logic to visits by British naval vessels of whatever type to the naval base.

The British military presence in Gibraltar and the use of British military facilities in Gibraltar is a matter entirely for the people of Gibraltar and the British Government and has nothing to do with Sr Juarez simply because he happens to be near us.

Just like we in Gibraltar do not interfere in the visits that may be made by warships at nearby Spanish ports, including American nuclear powered vessels.”

And in a statement bound to rankle with the Spanish mayor, the opposition alliance also questioned Sr Juárez’s sense of history.

“It may interest the Mayor of La Linea to know that Gibraltar was not obtained as a result of the Battle of Trafalgar,” the GSLP/Liberal statement said.

“It was already under British control 100 years before then.

The British military presence in Gibraltar was of great assistance to Spain when
they were in the process if being conquered by Napoleon.

Indeed, if the British had not intervened to defend Spain against domination by France, who knows whether the Spanish nation might have ended up under French control to this day.

In which case we would have found ourselves with a better neighbour than the one we have had to put up with for the last 300 years.”


Nelson’s Sub?

In his statement this weekend, the Mayor of La Línea asked himself why the British military would want to bring a nuclear submarine to Gibraltar as part of the Trafalgar celebrations.

“As far as we know, there were no submarines in that battle, let alone nuclear ones,” he said.

Technically speaking he is, of course, correct, but new documents have surfaced suggesting that submarines were very much on Horatio Nelson’s mind prior to that famous battle at sea. According to an article in the Sunday Times, those documents show that Admiral Lord Nelson “held secret talks at Downing Street on sinking Napoleon’s ships with submarines, mines and rockets.”

“The plan involved towing the mines, referred to as “infernal machines”, across the Channel on high-speed catamarans and then detonating them beneath the French vessels,” the article reported. The weapons meeting in Downing Street was also attended by Robert Fulton, a pioneer in submarine design.

“Fulton gave the meeting expert advice on the use of catamaran-mounted torpedoes,” the newspaper article stated.

“Previously he had designed the first “submarine boat”, the Nautilus, in Paris, but when he approached Napoleon’s ministry of the marine with a plan to blockade the mouth of the Thames with them, it scornfully dismissed him.

Fulton crossed secretly to England, where he demonstrated his design to [prime minister] Pitt.”

Details of the meeting have been published in a new biography of the admiral by Roger Knight, visiting professor of naval history at Greenwich University.

Mr Knight told the Sunday Times that Nelson’s interest in new weapons, which came too late to affect Trafalgar, stemmed from his worries that the war against Napoleon was near deadlock.

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