Rock becomes a hard place for smugglers

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The Independent Online
Julian misses his glory days as a smuggler. "It was like being in a film, being in the SAS without having to do all the training, playing cat-and-mouse with the authorities."

He takes me down to Water Gardens marina, in Gibraltar, and points out a handful of scruffy fast launches amid the scores of glossy pleasure yachts and speedboats. Some are laid up on blocks, most of those in the water are out of action, he says. A year ago I saw more than 60 lined up and ready to go.

It is early evening. We sit outside the Pig and Whistle pub while a stiff easterly wind, the levante, whips up the waves in the bay. Julian, who is in his mid-thirties, ran tobacco to Spain for six years before last year's clampdown following vociferous complaints from Madrid about alleged illegal activities on the Rock.

"I had a Boston whaler," he says nostalgically. "We had this Spanish guy from La Atunara and he would come over, or give us the money to buy 50 or 60 cases of cigarettes, Winstons, Camels from the shops or the warehouses. And we would spend the better part of the night delivering it to him. My boat could take 25, 30 cases at a time. We'd wait for the right window of opportunity and put them in.

"If the landing place was clear, it only took a phone call then 15 minutes to get it organised and the boat would be loaded and zipping away. On a good night I could make pounds 500, a grand or two grand on an exceptional night. But that might be once in a month.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was an honest day's work. We weren't robbing anybody."

Did he ever carry anything other than tobacco? "No, no," he says, looking askance at my tape-recorder.

"Smuggling is part of our history," he says. "It's in our blood. One of my ancestors broke the Spanish blockade by asking Lord Nelson to lend him a couple of British naval frigates to see the garrison through. He brought water, fruit, meat from Morocco, a couple of times."

From the Pig and Whistle, we climb aboard his motorbike and drive to the top of the Rock. There is an almost 360-degree view. The Atlantic to the west, Africa to the south, the Mediterranean, and Spain.

"We used to come up here with our binoculars and our walkie talkies, to check the guardia in Spain and give the go-ahead when the coast was clear. If tourists came by, we'd tell them we were security, or bird watching."

So what was he going to do now? "Oh I'm studying now to get business communication skills, doing a course to become a legal secretary, because I want to go into business." What business? "Canned tomatoes and fish from Morocco. You know, import-export."