The Royal Gibraltar Police will bolster training and equipment for marine officers following Sunday’s dramatic collision between a police launch and a smuggler’s boat.
Police will conduct a review of their rules of engagement and will explore the purchase of new kit, potentially including ‘vessel arrest systems’ designed to snare propellers to bring vessels to a halt.
The review is focused on non-lethal equipment but the RGP said it had not ruled out the possibility of arming its marine officers.
“All options remain open,” a police spokesman told the Chronicle.
The review comes after RGP Marine Section officers were rammed by suspected drug smugglers during a chase on Sunday afternoon.
The incident highlighted the dangers faced by law enforcement officers out at sea.
“This is yet another reminder of the dangers that the officers of the Royal Gibraltar Police and other law enforcement agencies face on a daily basis whilst combating drug smuggling in the Straits of Gibraltar,” police Commissioner Eddie Yome said.
“I am grateful to the officers of the Marine Section for their bravery, professionalism and determination when attempting to intercept suspect vessels, in what are becoming all too frequent occurrences.”
“I am mindful that the safety of the officers must be a prime concern. I have asked for a review of our rules of engagement at sea. I have also asked for techniques to be researched and equipment to be considered, to assist in deterring and combating such actions and affording the officers the best possible means of protecting themselves.”
Inspector Albert Buhagiar, Head of the Marine Section, said in an interview with GBC that the smugglers would do anything to get away, including ramming police vessels and throwing projectiles at officers.
“They are out there to do one thing and that is drug trafficking,” he said.
He declined to be drawn by GBC on the nature of the review but said that the safety of both RGP officers and the smugglers themselves “is paramount”.
The latest incident unfolded shortly before 5pm as officers patrolled British Gibraltar Territorial Waters aboard the interceptor vessel Sir John Chapple.
The crew had earlier chased a 12 metre Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat [RHIB], with four occupants, out of Gibraltar waters.
Whilst stationary close to Europa Point they were alerted to the presence of two RHIBs about four miles off the eastern end of the runway.
Shortly after the crew were informed that one of the two vessels was now navigating slowly in a southerly direction and about three miles east off Eastern Beach.
The crew then proceeded north on an interception course. On nearing the suspect vessel the navigator of the RHIB carried out an evasive manoeuvre which culminated with a direct thrust at the police RHIB colliding with the stern and damaging one of the four engines.
The suspect RHIB was approximately 13 metres in length and was carrying four occupants. As a result of the collision they were able to escape into Spanish waters.
The RGP officers, operating their RHIB on three engines, then gave chase to the smaller second vessel which was further to the north and carrying six occupants. This vessel also escaped into Spanish waters.
Two of its occupants were later apprehended by the Spanish authorities once onshore.
The RGP officers then returned to base with their damaged RHIB escorted by a Gibraltar Defence Police RHIB which had deployed to assist.
GSD COMMENDS RGP
The GSD has commended the bravery of the marine officers whose vessel was rammed by suspected drug smugglers during a chase on Sunday.
The GSD, who echoed the words of the Commissioner of Police, Eddie Yome, added that it welcomed the fact that none of the officers sustained injuries.
“Incidents like these serve to highlight the dangers faced by our law enforcement officers, whether they be from the RGP the GDP or Customs, at sea, on a regular basis,” Trevor Hammond said on behalf of the GSD.
“Their courage in dealing with all such incidents is to be applauded, as is the excellent co-operation that clearly exists between the RGP and GDP marine sections. It is pleasing to note from reports that at least some of the smugglers involved in the incident were subsequently apprehended.”