| Passengers on the British cruiser Aurora seek help in Gibraltar. (Reuters)
Gibraltar, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Spain shut its border with the British colony of Gibraltar today for the first time in two decades because a Mediterranean cruise ship carrying tourists with a viral stomach infection docked there, officials said.
The Aurora, loaded with hundreds of British tourists who have suffered from the infection, arrived in Gibraltar’s harbour today, irritating relations between Madrid and London over the disputed territory at the foot of Spain.
“I have received word from the authorities that the frontier was closed at 0600 GMT,” a Gibraltar government spokesperson said.
Spanish health minister Ana Pastor said Spain had asked British authorities for information on the condition of the ill passengers and the possible risk.
“In the absence of compliance with these requirements ... we were obliged to suspend the movement of people between Spain and the colony of Gibraltar in accordance with the law ... on public health,” she told Spanish state radio.
Gibraltar said infected people would not be allowed off the vessel, which left the Greek port of Piraeus on Friday after authorities there refused to allow passengers or crew to land. Doctors in Greece treated passengers and provided medical supplies for patients suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.
Gibraltar said the outbreak of viral gastroenteritis was nearly over, and only 11 people were sick out of 559 who had been affected by the 24-hour virus. There were seven new cases yesterday, Gibraltar said.
The border closing is the first between Spain and Gibraltar since it was fully reopened in 1985.
“We are in urgent contact with the Spanish authorities about this matter,” a spokesperson for Britain’s foreign office said, adding that the aim was to resolve it as quickly as possible.
Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco shut the frontier in 1969 as part of Spain'’ long-running dispute with Britain over sovereignty over Gibraltar, a strategically located rocky outcrop at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
Spanish state radio said about 4,000 Spaniards crossed the border every day to work in Gibraltar and that about 500 people had gathered at the crossing. Healthy passengers got off for some sight-seeing, determined not to let their holiday be spoiled. Passenger Stan Bee said: “The captain imposed some restrictions — such as not allowing self-service in the restaurant — but they weren’t that severe.”
Some 1,900 tourists were on the ship, which left Southampton on October 20 on a 17-day trip. The Aurora’s owners, P& Cruises, said the infection was believed to have been brought on board by a passenger at Southampton.