Gibraltar tension

British ambassador forced to apologise after Royal Navy ship 'used buoy painted colours of Spanish flag for target practice'

The Royal Navy was accused yesterday of using a Spanish flag as a machine-gun target.

Giles Paxman, the UK's new ambassador in Madrid, was forced to apologise after sailors fired at a red-and-yellow flag affixed to a buoy while patrolling off Gibraltar.

He was summoned to the Spanish Foreign Ministry for a dressing down and officials said he had conceded there had been an 'error of judgement'.

But the ambassador - who has been in post for just a month - denied that the crew of HMS Scimitar had been insulting Spain's flag.

Instead, he told them the sailors had actually been firing at Nato's maritime flag for the number '1' which shares the same distinctive colours.

Mr Paxman promised an investigation into the incident.

But diplomatic sources said Madrid was taking revenge following a spat in May when the Royal Navy forced a Spanish naval ship to retreat after it

A statement released by the Spanish Foreign Ministry said: 'The British ambassador has apologised for this error of judgement and the lack of sensibility shown and has promised to open a thorough investigation.'

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Madrid said: 'We can confirm the British ambassador has been called in to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

'They have put a statement out. We're aware of the wording and we have nothing further to say.'

The incident happened on Tuesday morning seven miles off Gibraltar when a Spanish police patrol boat witnessed officers on HMS Scimitar reeling in a red-and-yellow flag on a buoy.

The Guardia Civil claimed in a official report that two machine guns were trained on the flag - but admitted they had not seen any shots fired.

The Spanish police also said they were warned by loudspeaker as they approached: 'You are not allowed here, these are international waters, leave immediately.'

They told their superiors that this was a desperate attempt by the Navy to keep them at a distance while they concealed evidence that sailors had been defiling 'Spanish colours'.

An MoD spokesman yesterday insisted the Spanish had been mistaken, but pledged to take action so a row did not flare in future.

He said: 'HMS Scimitar was using Flag No1 during gunnery practise – not the Spanish national flag. Flag No1 is traditionally used on gunnery targets due to its high visibility however we recognise its similarity to the Spanish national flag and will use an alternative marker during gunnery practise in this area in the future.'

The latest spat comes amid simmering tensions in Straits of Gibraltar between Spanish police boats and the Royal Navy's two-vessel Gibraltar Patrol Boat Squadron.

Relations between the countries soured in the spring when the British Embassy in Madrid made an official complaint over a Spanish navy ship inspecting fishing boats in British waters.

After new incursions in July, the government of Gibraltar urged all ships to ignore Spanish patrol ships - and send up distress flares if approached.

Gibraltar was seized by British and Dutch Marines after fierce fighting in 1704, during the Napoleonic Wars, and ceded to Britain in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht nine years later.

But Spain has defiantly refused to recognise the agreement, which includes territorial waters three miles around the Rock, and has repeatedly tried to reclaim them.

It is not the first military mix-up between the two nations in recent years.

In 2002, British Marines inadvertently invaded Spain after storming the wrong beach during a training exercise.

Twenty troops, armed and in full battle order, poured from their landing craft and charged up a beach.

Thanks to a monumental navigational blunder, they had managed to invade the Spanish town of La Linea, which lies on the frontier with Gibraltar.

They thought they were invading Gibraltar as part of a military exercise and were expecting strong opposition from other British troops.

But they were confronted by sunbathers and two Spanish police officers. After acknowledging the mistake, they reboarded their craft and sailed to their proper destination

Source: Daily Mail

Vocabulary Practice

Find the green words from the article that have the following definition:

eg. Person who goes to the beach to get some colour. (noun) Answer - sunbather

  1. A big mistake you make because you don't take care. (noun)
  2. You normally do this with a bottle of wine into a glass. In another sense, it means to move quickly and in large quantities. (verb)
  3. To make a formal promise to do something. (verb)
  4. To prefent something from being seen. A synonym of hide. (verb)
  5. A group of people who work together. (noun)
  6. Violent and frightening. (adjective)
  7. To move nearer something or someone. (verb)
  8. Detailed and careful. (adjective)
  9. A mistake that causes confusion. (noun)
  10. An arguement. (noun)
  11. When there is not enough of something. (noun)
  12. Resulting in or because of. (adjective)