Spain shut its border with the tiny British colony of Gibraltar yesterday for the first time in two decades because a cruise ship carrying tourists with a viral infection was due to dock there, the Gibraltar government 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 7am," a government spokesman said.
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.
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 Nov. 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.
Late on Sunday night, Gibraltar said it would allow the Aurora to dock on Monday but that infected people would not be allowed off the vessel.
The Aurora has been heading for Gibraltar 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 diarrhoea 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 Cruise 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," the statement said.
Some 1,900 tourists and 837 crew were on board the ship, which left Southampton on Oct. 20 on a 17-day round 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.