Nuke Sub Still in Gibraltar Despite Tireless Protest

MADRID, Spain, January 22, 2001 (ENS) - The biggest protest yet against a stricken nuclear submarine berthed in Gibraltar has not swayed the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence or Spanish authorities.

march

More than 70,000 protesters took to the streets of Algeciras, Saturday. (Photo courtesy http://www.iberianews.com)
More than 70,000 people marched in the southern Spanish city of Algeciras on Saturday in protest at HMS Tireless, which has been docked in the deep water port at the base of the Rock of Gibraltar since last May.

The vessel has a fault in its reactor cooler system, which has since been shut down.

Some in Gibraltar are worried that repairs to the nuclear sub might release radiation that would contaminate the famous rock that forms the northern half of the gateway from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea.

Once a strategic military base during the Cold War, Gibraltar, a self governing UK dependency situated at the southern tip of Spain, is a convenient stop for UK submarines.

Saturday's march, which some estimates put at over 100,000 people, is the clearest signal yet that HMS Tireless has outstayed its welcome. The head of Andalucia's regional government led the march, which was supported by all parties and unions except Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party.

Aznar

Spanish prime minister Joes Maria Aznar. (Photo courtesy Government of Spain)
According to a report published Sunday in Spain's El Pais newspaper, the Ministry of Defence has told Spain's government that it will remove HMS Tireless from Gibraltar by May 19 if repairs are not complete.

On the same day, Ministry of Defence spokesperson Sarah Haywood denied the El Pais report, and told international press that the UK expects repairs to be completed by the end of March and that the vessel will leave "soon thereafter."

Spanish Foreign Minister, Josep Pique, who meets his UK counterpart Robin Cook in London this week, stated that the Spanish Government expects repairs to be completed in Gibraltar.

Towing Tireless back to the UK would mean negotiating 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) of often stormy seas. Much of the journey includes the Portuguese coastline.

Portugal has publicly stated it does not approve of such a plan, which means that Tireless would have difficulty finding a berth in the event of problems during the voyage.

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Greenpeace activists boarded HMS Tireless last week. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace-Spain)
In an interview with the UK's Times newspaper last month, Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar appeared to support the damaged vessel's removal from Gibraltar.

"The most reasonable, logical and desirable thing would be for it to be taken to the United Kingdom," said Aznar at the time.

Local environmental activist Juan Uceda told online news agency Iberia News today that Greenpeace style action against HMS Tireless would be stepped up. Last week, a group of Greenpeace activists boarded the sub in a protest against its presence.