THE local cruise sector yesterday expressed its concern at the news that Spain is planning to refuse entry to cruise ships that have docked at the disputed British colony of Gibraltar.
Britain has said that the ban was unacceptable and demanded an end to it immediately. We regard the disruption of the cruise ships as completely unacceptable, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said at a joint news conference with his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos, yesterday.
The solution is for the disruption to end, he added.
The cruise ship dispute began late last month when the Spanish port of Barcelona turned away a Norwegian cruise liner after it had arrived from Gibraltar, citing European Union regulations.
Other Spanish ports have since adopted the ban. Gibraltar says the ban is an attempt by Spain's new Socialist government to strangle the colony's economy as part of a long-running spat over its sovereignty.
So far, no cruise ships have been turned away from Palma, which has been building up its cruise traffic over the past few years.
Short cruises, which take in both Palma and Gibraltar as well as other popular Mediterranean ports, have proved to be so popular that some operators now base their ships in Palma.
The ban will mean that the city will not welcome some of her most prestigious visitors such as the Queen Mary, but the good news is that the QE2 will still be arriving as scheduled on May 29.
Spain ceded the Rock at its southern tip to Britain in 1713, but has been trying to get it back ever since.
Gibraltar remains a sore point in relations between the two EU members.
The shock election of Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in March robbed Blair of a staunch EU ally over the Iraq war and immediately tested relations between London and Madrid as Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq.
Moratinos said he hoped the cruise ship dispute would end soon but he failed to offer a solution.
Nor had Moratinos secured any date for a resumption of stalled talks on Gibraltar. There is no formal date for the start of formal talks, he said.
Straw said Britain's position on Gibraltar remained that there could be no change in sovereignty without the consent of the colony's people, who overwhelmingly voted to stay British in a November 2002 referendum that Spain dismissed as illegal.
Despite the Gibraltar spat, Straw and Moratinos said bilateral relations were excellent following talks that covered Iraq, the Middle East peace process and the EU constitution.
Despite Spain's military withdrawal from Iraq, Moratinos said Spain would adopt a constructive attitude to agreeing a new United Nations resolution for Iraq.
On an EU constitution, Moratinos said Britain and Spain had reached almost total agreement with only some minor differences on the extent of qualified majority voting.
Spain's previous centre-right Popular Party government, together with Poland, blocked in December a deal on the EU charter which threatened to decrease their voting rights. EU leaders now hope to tie up the treaty at a summit in June.
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