An eight-year old boy enjoying a boat ride with his father died yesterday after their vessel was rammed by a speedboat.
Last night, details of the incident remained sketchy but it appears a rigid-hulled inflatable boat [RHIB] collided at speed with the boat just metres off Getares beach in Algeciras.
The RHIB passed over the other vessel, injuring both the boy and his father who were on board.
There were unconfirmed reports that the RHIB had been navigating dangerously and that the boy’s father had remonstrated with its occupants just before the incident.
The RHIB’s two occupants were later arrested and the boy’s father was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Nothing could be done to save the child’s life.
Initial reports pointed to the speedboat being a RHIB of the type used by drug traffickers, although authorities later played this down. There was no suggestion either that it had been involved in illicit activities.
Even so, the incident once again put the spotlight on drug trafficking in the Campo area, where there is a growing public perception that criminal networks are out of control, leading to a culture of impunity.
Yesterday, Jose Ignacio Landaluce, the Partido Popular mayor of Algeciras and senator, joined forces with other political parties and urged the central government to push ahead with a planned ban on fast RHIBs, following the lead taken by Gibraltar years ago.
“All the political representatives want the so-called narco-launches to be prohibited as soon as possible,” he said.
“We also want a greater presence of the Guardia Civil maritime service on our beaches to ensure the safety and peace of mind of beachgoers.”
Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spain’s Minister for the Interior, confirmed last month that Spain would move to ban the large RHIBs with powerful engines used by traffickers to ferry drug shipments across the Strait of Gibraltar.
“Wherever they are, they will be seized,” he said, adding that the required legislation had already been drafted.
Susana Diaz, the President of the Junta de Andalucia, said she was “moved and outraged” by the death of the boy yesterday.
She called on the central government in Madrid to “once and for all” provide the necessary resources to end illicit activities in the Strait of Gibraltar region, “which sow fear and pain in the good people of this area”.
In Gibraltar, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo sent a message of condolence to Algeciras and said Gibraltar shared its grief at the tragic news.
Gibraltar, he said on Twitter, stood in solidarity with the Campo de Gibraltar.
Todo Gibraltar conmovido por el fallecimiento de un pequeño en #Getares #Algeciras en un incidente con una #NarcoLancha. Nuestro mas sentido pesame desde @GibraltarGov a toda la familia del pequeño y nuestra sinsera #solidaridad con el #CampoDeGibraltar https://t.co/ImyNbeBsUI
— Fabian Picardo (@FabianPicardo) May 14, 2018
Yesterday’s events come just two days after off-duty Guardia Civil officers were forced to fire three warning shots into the air after being assaulted by a group of 40 people, in yet another incident that has raised concerns about organised crime in the Campo de Gibraltar.
Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spain’s Minister for the Interior, described the incident as “an act of vandalism” that was not related to drug trafficking in the area.
But the Asociación Unificada de Guardia Civiles [AUGC] rejected that position and said the events at the weekend underscored the risks faced daily by law enforcement agents working in the Campo.
The nine officers who were assaulted belonged to the Grupos de Acción Rápida, the rapid response unit of the Guardia Civil recently deployed to the area as part of a crackdown on smuggling networks.
The officers were in plain clothes when they were surrounded by a group of around 40 people in El Rinconcillo, at the northwest corner of the Bay of Gibraltar on the outskirts of Algeciras.
The officers were attacked with stone, bottles and sticks and were forced to take action to defend themselves, including firing three shots into the air to disperse the crowd.
“This is yet another episode in the rising violence against law enforcement agencies in the Campo de Gibraltar,” the AUGC said, adding it underlined “the growing insecurity” in the area.
“Every week Guardia Civil, police and municipal police officers are attacked without any reaction from the [central] government.”
“How many more incidents of this nature have to occur before they cease to be treated as isolated occurrences and forceful measures are put in place to tackle the situation?”
According to the AUGC, Saturday’s incident is the result of the sense of impunity with which organised gangs operate in the Campo.
It said there are up to 30 organised groups in the Campo helped by more than 3,000 collaborators.
“The shortage of law enforcement officers is patently clear,” the AUGC said, adding that at least another 300 officers were needed.
But yesterday, Mr Zoido dismissed any link between drug trafficking and the incident in El Rinconcillo, which he put down to “an act of vandalism”.
He said the officers had been set upon by a group who were celebrating a communion and were unaware the men belonged to the Guardia Civil.
It is not clear what sparked the affray but two people, a man and a woman, have already been arrested in connection to the incident, while a further 10 have been identified.
Of those, the minister said, “only two have a criminal record for previous drug trafficking offences”.
Irrespective of the motives for the attack, Mr Zoido insisted, “there will be no impunity” for those involved.
Mr Zoido said Spain’s law enforcement agencies were working hard to tackle organised crime in the Campo but that this was “a complex problem” that required a multi-agency approach.
That includes not just a police response, but a greater focus too on education and jobs in a region struggling with 40% unemployment.
“Such high levels of unemployment and school absenteeism cannot be allowed,” he said.
On that point at least, the minister and the AUGC were in agreement.
The AUGC has long been calling for a national strategy to tackle drug crime in the Campo and beyond.
It also wants a tougher response to those who provide indirect support to criminal networks.
“The AUGC is clear that in the current situation we must demand more, because the fight against organised networks is not solved only by investigating the criminal offences we can see,” the AUGC said.
“It must include too investigation too of all the activities used to conceal the proceeds of the principal illicit business.”