DOHA – Qatar deliberately ratcheted up tensions with Bahrain on Wednesday by claiming that two Bahraini boats breached its territorial waters in a statement by its interior ministry.
Bahrain, however, insisted the two vessels, part of its coastguard fleet, had been wrongfully intercepted.
Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, have imposed an air, naval and land embargo on Qatar since June 2017 over their insistence Doha is too close to Iran and radical Islamist groups. Qatar denies the charges.
Under the diplomatic and economic embargo, none of the boycotting countries permit their maritime vessels into Qatari waters. They uphold similar bars on their nations’ aircraft and locally-registered vehicles.
The spat mostly plays out in official statements and through online and media proxies, and real-world incidents have been rare.
“The Coast Guard and Border Security department attempted to contact Bahrain’s operations room to demand why the two boats were in Qatari waters,” Qatar’s interior ministry said in a statement.
Qatari officials were initially unable to reach their counterparts in Bahrain, the statement said, while the captain of one of the boats reported mechanical difficulty had caused them to float into Qatari waters.
The boats, which had been conducting naval exercises, requested permission to return to Bahrain, following which Qatar coordinated their return with Bahrain’s maritime authorities, Doha said.
Bahrain’s interior ministry said in a statement that “the move by Qatari vessels violated applicable regional and international agreements.”
Three Qatari coastguard vessels had made the interception north of Fasht al-Dibal, a coral reef previously claimed by both countries, at around 1000 GMT, Manama said.
Bahrain did not state whether its vessels had strayed into Qatari waters but added it would report the incident to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regional bloc, which both countries are members of.
The Bahraini parliament condemned Qatar’s actions, saying that such moves “threaten the region’s security and stability” and calling on Doha to respect international laws and GCC decisions.
In the early days of the Gulf dispute in 2017, the Qatari coastguard seized 15 Bahraini fishing boats, alleging they had been operating illegally in the emirate’s waters.
Qatar had a longstanding territorial dispute with Bahrain over the waters and small islands that separate the peninsula from the main islands of its maritime neighbour which was only resolved by the International Court of Justice in 2001.