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Police Arrest Demonstrators in Oil Tanker Protest Near Gibraltar

Gibraltar police arrested 20 environmental activists and Spanish journalists during a protest by Greenpeace against the anchoring of an aging oil tanker in the British colony's territorial waters. Most of the journalists were released after a protest from the Spanish Foreign Ministry.

Three inflatable boats carrying the activists and journalists approached the oil tanker Vernamagna, which is anchored in Algeciras Bay, off the British colony at the southern tip of Spain to refuel other ships.

Six police boats intercepted two of the inflatable boats, but the third reached the tanker. Two Greenpeace activists boarded the tanker, climbed the mast ahd hung banners reading: "Oil Hazard" and "Dangerous Tanker."

The Spanish Foreign Ministry issued a protest to the British government over the arrest of the journalists, who included reporters from Spain's major newspapers El Mundo and El Pais, as well as from state television. All but two journalists and four activists were subsequently released. Those remaining in detention reportedly faced charges of dangerous navigation and resisting arrest.

The activists were protesting alleged lack of maritime safety in the British colony's waters regarding single-hulled tankers.

The European Union has tightened restrictions on single-hulled tankers, and some countries, including Spain, have banned them altogether, following the sinking last November of the single-hulled tanker, Prestige, off Spain's northwest coast. Spilled oil from the tanker tarred hundreds of kilometers of beaches, causing Spain's worst ecological disaster. Greenpeace calls the Algeciras Bay an ecological "time bomb."

Spain claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, which it ceded to Britain in 1713.