SEVEN violent stowaways were seized in just nine minutes by Special Boat Service commandos in a dramatic raid on an oil tanker last night.
Heavily-armed anti-terror troops stormed the vessel off the Isle of Wight after the fugitives had allegedly threatened to kill the captain and his crew.Special Boat Service commandos seized seven violent stowaways on an oil tanker in just seven minutes A police boat is seen to the right of oil tanker Nave Andromeda Cops responded to an incident on the 42-tonne tankerCredit: Solent News
Police boats and helicopters helped provide distractions as at least 16 SBS commandos took part in the swoop on the 42,000-tonne Nave Andromeda — due to dock in Southampton.
Under the cover of darkness, they descended from blacked-out helicopters and approached the vessel in fast attack boats.
The troops were lowered on ropes from two Merlin choppers, while a pair of Wildcat helicopters circled above the tanker, providing close surveillance of the target.
How the dramatic raid unfolded:Reports emerged of a oil tanker being 'hijacked' off the Isle of Wight yesterday afternoon The captain had sent a mayday signal at 10am after fearing for the lives of himself and his crew Seven stowaways reportedly smashed glass on board and threatened to use flares as weapons The tanker zig-zagged in the English Channel before dropping anchor SBS commandos swooped on the tanker and seized the stowaways
Commandos in boats also used grappling irons to climb aboard the 230-metre vessel while witnesses reported seeing blue flashing lights from police boats at the scene.
A source said: “The police lights were a distraction.
“This was an SBS operation from start to finish.
“Seizing ships is their bread and butter. They are happiest working in the dark.”
The stowaways were quickly detained and handed to Hampshire Police for questioning after the dramatic scenes unfolded.
Last night the Ministry of Defence said initial reports confirmed that the crew — believed to number between 15 and 20 — were safe and well.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorised armed forces personnel to board the ship in response to a police request after cops raised concerns for the welfare of the crew.
Mr Wallace said: “I commend the hard work of the armed forces and police to protect lives and secure the ship.
“In dark skies, and worsening weather, we should all be grateful for our brave personnel. People are safe tonight thanks to their efforts.”
Ms Patel tweeted: “Tonight we are thankful for the quick and decisive action of our police and armed forces who were able to bring this situation under control, guaranteeing the safety of all those on board.”
FEARS FOR CREW
The tanker had been due to dock in Southampton yesterday morning after a 19-day voyage from Africa. But a mayday was sent out at around 10am.
The captain of the Nave Andromeda feared for his and his crew’s lives after the stowaways are said to have smashed glass on board and grabbed flares as weapons.
They turned hostile when crew members tried to lock them in a cabin.The vessel could easily be seen from the Isle of WightCredit: Sienna Anderson/pictureexclusive.com The ship was seized off the coast of the Isle of WightCredit: marinetraffic.com A Police officer on the Isle of Wight keeps watch on the Nave Andromeda off Isle of WightCredit: Solent News
A source on the Isle of Wight claimed that during a Mayday call, the captain told an operator: “I’m trying to keep them calm but please send help.”
The source said: “The captain clearly stated he feared for their lives and needed urgent assistance. You could hear the fear in his voice.”
The tanker — operated by Greek firm Folegrandos — was seen zig-zagging before dropping anchor three miles of the Isle’s east coast and turning on its lights as darkness fell.
The stowaways were believed to have climbed aboard the Liberian-flagged tanker in Nigeria — 4,235 miles from the Isle of Wight, gaining access through an opening above the rudder.
On its journey, the tanker made stops in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and then south of Saint-Nazaire, on the west coast of France.
It was last known to be docked in Lagos, Nigeria, on October 5, and was scheduled to arrive at Southampton at 10.30am today.
Lawyers representing the ship’s owners last night said the incident was “100 per cent not a hijacking”.
Earlier in the day, police had said verbal threats had been made towards the crew but no one had been reported injured.
An exclusion zone, with a three-mile radius, was put in place around the vessel.
A Government spokesperson explained: “In response to a police request, the Defence Secretary and Home Secretary authorised Armed Forces personnel to board a ship in the English Channel to safeguard life and secure a ship that was subject to suspected hijacking.
“Armed forces have gained control of the ship and seven individuals have been detained.
“Police investigations will now continue. Initial reports confirm crew safe and well.”
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the boarding of the tanker Nave Andromeda by British armed forces was a "good outcome".
"We have been watching this all day," he told BBC News.
"Seven stowaways on board taking over a ship or causing the ship not to be in full command would have triggered a multi-agency alarm and then well-rehearsed classified protocols were then put into action.
"Initially it didn't look like this was terrorist-related nor involving WMD but the erratic behaviour was concerning.
"The safety of the crew was important as is indeed any unauthorised movement towards the coast.
"I am pleased to see that swift action has been taken. This is a good outcome."
Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, also added: "We understand the vessel has been boarded by security forces and made safe. We commend the swift action taken by UK personnel to secure the vessel and most importantly the safety crew."Nave Andromeda is seen in Portishead, Britain in this undated picture obtained from social mediaCredit: Reuters A coastguard helicopter circled the ship this afternoon This Marine Traffic map shows how busy the Channel is at about 4.50pm on Sunday
In a statement released by Hampshire Police earlier today, they said: "We are now in a position to provide a further update to the maritime security incident which took place on board the Nave Andromeda off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
"At 10.04am today (25 October) concerns were raised to police for the welfare of crew on board the vessel, which was situated approximately six miles off the coast of Bembridge.
"The vessel had been travelling in the direction of Southampton, having sailed from Lagos in Nigeria.
"It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board, and they had made threats towards the crew.
"Following a multi-agency response by police with support from the military and other emergency service partners, seven people were detained by police.
"All 22 crew members are safe and well.
"Police are investigating this incident and we have a number of enquiries to carry out to establish the full circumstances."
The Nave Andromeda is sailing under the flag of Liberia, and was built in 2011.
The Special Boat Service is located just a few miles away in Poole, Dorset.
In December 2018, SBS commandos took just five minutes to seize a ship hijacked by four migrants.
The African stowaways had threatened crew with iron bars on the Grande Tema in the English Channel.
But they meekly surrendered when black-clad SBS troops swooped down silently from a Merlin helicopter later that night.
A message went out to the elite fighters as they flew back after the “textbook” Operation Renegade mission declaring: “Pirates 0 - SBS 4.”The Liberian-flagged ship is understood to have been taken over by stowawaysCredit: Solent News Cops and coastguard have reacted to the incidentCredit: Solent News
Special Forces arrest four stowaway migrants attempting to seize control of container ship near Margate