The small British territory of Gibraltar, situated on a narrow peninsula of Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast, relies upon four forces for its maritime security. These are the Gibraltar Squadron of British Royal Navy (RN), and the marine units of the Gibraltar Defence Police (GDP), the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) and Her Majesty’s Customs Gibraltar (HM Customs Gibraltar).
Core RN units are the 16-metre, 32-knot fast patrol boats Sabre (ex-Grey Wolf) and Scimitar (ex-Grey Fox). These 1980s-vintage, Halmatic-built craft were, until 2002, deployed on Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland, and manned by Royal Marines.
Both vessels are armed with two machine guns, fired from armoured stern mountings.
Earlier this year the RN confirmed that Sabre and Scimitar will be replaced in 2019 by a pair of newbuild, larger, faster and more heavily armed vessels. No further information has been released. There are, though, strong, but unconfirmed, rumours in the defence world that the replacement craft are to be supplied by fast boat specialists Safehaven Marine of Ireland.
There is also some speculation that the rumoured contract might be linked to a prospective order for a multi-role ship for the Irish Naval Service. (British yard Babcock Appledore is currently working on the sixth in a series of offshore patrol vessels for this service, while Safehaven, for its part, recently supplied the RN with a small catamaran survey vessel.)
Late last year the GDP took delivery of three new 40+ knot GRP interceptor craft.
The hulls of all these boats were built by Tampa Defence of the USA, with the craft being customised for a police role by South Boats of UK. Abraham Attias is an 11-metre, fully enclosed boat, powered by three 300 horsepower petrol outboard motors
The semi-open Charles Curtis has a length of 13.4 metres, and is powered by twin inboard diesels, linked to surface piercing propellers while the 12.2-metre, fully enclosed, Stephen Mckillop features twin inboard diesels, linked to waterjets.
These new boats are all fitted with radar, thermal imaging and low light TV cameras, as well as shock-absorbent seating.
In 2013 the RGP commissioned the 25-metre, 28-knot, RHIB-equipped patrol vessel Sir William Jackson. Constructed by Technomont of Croatia, this vessel, prior to entering Gibraltar service, was a British fisheries patrol vessel. It was refitted in UK prior to delivery for its new police role.
2015 saw Sir William Jackson being joined in RGP service by another similar Technomont-constructed craft, namely the purpose-built Sir Adrian Johns.
Also in 2015, the then newly formed marine unit of HM Customs Gibraltar took delivery from Italian builders Fabio Buzzi of two 60-knot, structured foam–constructed, 10.4-metre RIB fast pursuit and interception craft. The enclosed, offshore-capable, Searcher features a galley, toilet and air conditioning, and is powered by three 300 horsepower engines. The open-topped Seeker is powered by two such engines.
Both craft are fitted with radar, thermal imaging, and low light TV.
The Gibraltar maritime scene is a complex one, and the territory’s increasingly well-equipped waterborne forces, which also include some older patrol craft and numerous RHIBS, can look forward to a busy future. Operational challenges include countering large scale smuggling, as well as territorial incursions by Spanish naval and paramilitary vessels, and conducting search and rescue operations. Also, the nascent threat that Gibraltar will, like Spain’s North African enclaves, become embroiled in the massive unauthorised efflux of people from Africa, also looms increasingly large.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.