Seven people have been detained after a ten-hour incident off of the coast of the Isle of Wight, during which stowaways made “verbal threats” towards the crew of the crude oil tanker the Nave Andromeda.
Sky News reported that it was a Special Boat Service (the British equivalent of the U.S. Navy SEALs) that brought the incident to a conclusion. Sixteen special forces commandos had stormed the vessel at around 7 pm, with Sky News reporters saying that the whole incident had taken around seven minutes, with ensuing activity during the “big operation” on the vessel lasting 45 minutes in total. Two Royal Navy Merlin and two Wildcat helicopters were used during the operation, with a frigate on standby.
The Ministery of Defence confirmed on Sunday evening: “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 the crew are safe and well.”
“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,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
Hampshire police had revealed earlier in the evening the Nave Andromeda had come into trouble at around 10 am on Sunday as it travelled towards the port town of Southampton. The tanker is believed to be flying under the Liberian flag and is of Greek ownership, and set sail from Lagos, Nigeria, on the 6th of October.
Police had become concerned for the welfare of the crew after “it was reported that a number of stowaways on board” had made “verbal threats” towards the mariners. No one had been injured, and authorities had put a three-mile radius around the vessels as they tried to bring the incident “to a safe conclusion”.
The ship was reportedly in ballast and not carrying any oil.
Reports from earlier this afternoon said that Home Secretary Priti Patel is being kept up to speed with development, with the government and figures from the military having attended an emergency COBRA (a crisis committee) meeting on Sunday afternoon.
Sky News’s home affairs correspondent Mark White had said during the afternoon that the “security incident” had unfolded when the stowaways were found, with sources reportedly telling the news network that “the crew are sheltering at certain points on the ship”.
“It is clearly a serious incident that is unfolding,” the journalist had said.
The editor of the shipping news journal Lloyd’s List told Sky News that his sources have said that there are seven stowaways, assumed to have come all the way from Nigeria. Richard Meade told the broadcaster that crew had discovered the migrants and tried to restrain them in a cabin, but the migrants had turned violent. The group reportedly entered the vessel through the rudder trunk.
Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight Bob Seely had told the news channel that there was “concern” that the “captain may not be in full control”. The BBC reports that despite claims, lawyers representing the vessel’s owners said the incident was “100 per cent not a hijacking”, saying that it had been known for a while that there were stowaways on board.
The last time stowaways caused a disturbance on a ship in British waters was in December 2018, when four Nigerian and Liberian migrants discovered on an Italian cargo ship moving through the Thames Estuary threw faeces and urine and waved polls at crew, demanding to be dropped off in Britain. In January 2020, the men were cleared of hijacking charges and jailed for affray.