Armed forces storm oil tanker and detain stowaways after ‘hijacking’

Seven people have been detained after British armed forces stormed an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight following a suspected hijacking by stowaways.

The raid, likely to have been carried out by members of the Special Boat Service (SBS), was authorised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel on Sunday night after a tense 10-hour stand-off.

Hampshire Police said they were alerted to concerns over the welfare of the crew of the 28-metre long Nave Andromeda soon after 10am on Sunday as the ship headed towards Southampton, having set sail from Lagos in Nigeria.

The Ministry of Defence said: "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."

Hampshire police later said all 22 crew members of the tanker were safe.

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The Nave Andromeda oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight. It has been reported that a number of stowaways were on board and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
In this image taken from SKY video, shows a tanker at sea, as filmed from land on Sunday Oct. 25, 2020. British police are investigating an undisclosed incident aboard an oil tanker in the English Channel. The incident reportedly took place aboard the Libyan-registered oil tanker Nave Andromeda south of Sandown on Isle of Wight, according to Isle of Wight Radio. (SKY News via AP)
In this image taken from SKY video, shows a tanker at sea, as filmed from land on Sunday Oct. 25, 2020. British police are investigating an undisclosed incident aboard an oil tanker in the English Channel. The incident reportedly took place aboard the Libyan-registered oil tanker Nave Andromeda south of Sandown on Isle of Wight, according to Isle of Wight Radio. (SKY News via AP)
A a tanker at sea, on Sunday Oct. 25, 2020. British police and coast guard units have responded to an incident on an oil tanker in the English Channel after the crew reported they had stowaways onboard who had become verbally abusive. The incident began about 10 a.m. on the Libyan-registered tanker Nave Andromeda and was continuing Sunday night. (Steve Parsons/PA via AP)
The Nave Andromeda oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight. It has been reported that a number of stowaways were on board and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Nave Andromeda oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight. It has been reported that a number of stowaways were on board and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Nave Andromeda oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight. It has been reported that a number of stowaways were on board and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
The tanker the Nave Andromeda is pictured on the Noordzeekanaal in the Netherlands in this image taken on April 3, 2014. British police and coast guard units responded Sunday Oct. 25, 2020, to an incident on the oil tanker in the English Channel after the crew reported they had stowaways onboard who had become verbally abusive. The incident, which began about 10 a.m. on the Libyan-registered tanker Nave Andromeda, was continuing Sunday evening. The coast guard scrambled two helicopters to the scene, and authorities imposed a three-mile exclusion zone around the vessel. (Lammert Melk via AP)
The Nave Andromeda oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight. It has been reported that a number of stowaways were on board and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Nave Andromeda oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight. It has been reported that a number of stowaways were on board and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured.
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The SBS is the elite maritime counter-terrorism unit of the Royal Navy, with most of its personnel Royal Marine Commandos who, the MoD says, "specialise in daring undercover raids that exploit the element of surprise".

SBS operations are highly classified and not officially confirmed, but when stowaways ran amok on a cargo ship in the Thames Estuary in December 2018, the ship's operator said they were detained after SBS personnel were airlifted onto the vessel.

On Sunday, The Times reported four military helicopters – thought to have included two Merlin Mk 4s, a Wildcat and a Chinook – took 40 personnel to the scene of the suspected hijack aboard the Nave Andromeda.

The newspaper quoted a defence source as saying about 16 members of the SBS boarded the vessel backed by airborne snipers and secured it in nine minutes.

"I commend the hard work of the armed forces and police to protect lives and secure the ship," Mr Wallace said.

"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 said: "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."

SEA Tanker
(PA Graphics)

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the boarding of the tanker was a "good outcome".

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."

Before the armed forces action, Hampshire Police said the vessel had been located around six miles off the coast of Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, adding: "It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board, and they had made verbal threats towards the crew. No one has been reported injured."

An exclusion zone with a three mile radius was placed around the vessel, with two coastguard helicopters spotted circling the ship in the afternoon.

According to maritime tracking websites, the Nave Andromeda had sailed towards the north side of the Isle of Wight by late on Sunday night.

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. https://t.co/ZYGu2LdAUk

— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) October 25, 2020

It is understood the tanker had been expected to dock in Southampton at 10.30am on Sunday and that the port received contact from the ship but it had not been refused entry to the harbour.

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