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Spain shuts border with Gibraltar over cruise ship
( 2003-11-03 16:00) (Agencies)

Spain shut its border with the tiny British colony of Gibraltar on Monday for the first time in two decades because a cruise ship carrying tourists with a viral infection had docked there, officials said.

The cruise ship Aurora, loaded with hundreds of British tourists who have suffered from the 24-hour infection, arrived in Gibraltar's harbor on Monday morning.

"I have received word from the authorities that the frontier was closed at 0700 (0600 GMT)," a Gibraltar government spokesman said.

A spokesman for Spain's Ministry of Health said it was a "preventive measure until we know more about the nature and extent of the infection."

The closure -- effectively cutting off the colony from the European mainland -- is the first time the border between Spain and Gibraltar has been sealed since it was fully reopened in 1985.

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office told Reuters: "We are in urgent contact with the Spanish authorities about this matter. There are ongoing contacts with the aim resolving it as quickly as possible."

Speaking to BBC radio, Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana accused Spain of "an outrageous over-reaction."

Spanish state radio said about 4,000 Spaniards crossed the border every day to work in Gibraltar and that about 500 people were already gathered at the crossing.

Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco shut the frontier in 1969 as part of Spain's long-running dispute with Britain over sovereignty over Gibraltar, a strategically located rocky outcrop at the mouth of the Mediterranean.


Gibraltar is preparing for general elections on November 27 with both major candidates running on a platform of fierce resistance to any Spanish attempts to regain sovereignty over "The Rock," ceded to Britain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.

Spain has been trying to get Gibraltar back ever since.

Gibraltar said infected people would not be allowed off the vessel, which had been heading for the territory since Friday, when it left the Greek port of Piraeus after authorities there refused to allow passengers or crew to land.

Doctors in Greece treated the passengers and loaded the cruise ship with medical supplies for patients suffering from diarrhea and vomiting.

But Gibraltar said the outbreak of viral gastroenteritis was nearly over, and that only 11 people were still sick out of 559 who had been affected by the 24-hour virus. There were seven new cases on Sunday, Gibraltar said.

"The Gibraltar Government will allow the P&O Cruises Ship 'Aurora' to enter Gibraltar and for her healthy passengers to disembark, as normal, as occurred in Venice and Dubrovnik," the government said in a statement released late on Sunday.

"As a precaution passengers who have suffered or shown symptoms of the virus at any time after midnight last Thursday will not be allowed to come ashore," it said.

Some 1,900 tourists and 837 crew were on board the ship, which left Southampton on October 20 on a 17-day trip.

"There is no need for the general public in Gibraltar to be concerned, and we should welcome these visitors to Gibraltar as usual," Tourism Minister Joe Holliday said in the statement.

The Aurora's owners, P&O Cruises, said the infection was believed to have been brought on board by a passenger at Southampton. P&O Cruises is part of Carnival Corp., the world's biggest cruise group.

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