A ‘hijacked’ tanker docked in Southampton this morning after being seized by special forces commandos after violence erupted when the crew tried to lock seven stowaways in a cabin and threatened to report them.
The captain of Nave Andromeda made a panicked mayday call at around 10.30am yesterday saying ‘I’m trying to keep them calm but please send help’ after confronting the Nigerian men as his ship sailed by the Isle of Wight.
He ordered the 22 crew members into the ship’s citadel, an emergency room used during pirate attacks, and ‘clearly feared for their lives’ after the stowaways smashed glass and made threats to kill, according to a source.
A ten-hour standoff ensued before 16 Special Boat Service commandos, backed by airborne snipers, stormed the tanker from blacked-out Merlin helicopters and fast attack boats before using ‘overwhelming force’ to regain control in just nine minutes.
A frigate, believed to be HMS Richmond, was also on standby but not needed during the operation, while the stowaways were handed to Hampshire Police. Officials have not yet revealed if they were armed.
The Nave Andromeda, which is believed to have had 42,000 tons of crude oil on board, docked at Southampton early this morning. None of the 22 crew were harmed.
There have been reports the tanker had been hijacked, but lawyers representing the owners of the vessel, which had sailed from Lagos, told the BBC the incident was ‘100 per cent not a hijacking’.
But former Royal Navy Rear Admiral Dr Chris Parry said the incident was a warning to the British authorities, saying: ‘Next time they could be terrorists’.
The Nave Andromeda oil tanker docked next to the Queen Elizabeth II Cruise Terminal in Southampton, where it is seen today
A crew member is seen on the deck of the oil tanker Nave Andromeda after it was moored at the cruise terminal at Southampton this morning
The Special Boat Service (SBS) raided the tanker yesterday evening off the Isle of Wight after stowaways were found on board who threatened the crew. Pictured is an official on the boat today
Rear Admiral Dr Chris Parry told Good Morning Britain today: ‘Next time it may not be just stowaways. It could be terrorists, it could be people smugglers or anything.
‘We’ve got to approach this problem in a much more sophisticated way, we’ve got to up our intelligence.
‘We’ve got to demand more from shipping companies and also from foreign countries with whom we do business.
‘We’re into a whole era now of mass migration and I think that covers a lot of things that we probably won’t want to happen in our vicinity or in our country.’
Hampshire Police said the force was alerted to concerns over the welfare of the crew of the 228-metre long Nave Andromeda soon after 10am on Sunday as the ship headed towards Southampton, having set sail from Lagos in Nigeria.
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 and about 16 members of the SBS boarded the vessel.
Richard Meade, of the Lloyd’s List Intelligence maritime service, said he had been told by sources close to the ship’s owners that the crew had tried to detain the stowaways in a cabin.
He said: ‘Seven stowaways were discovered on board the vessel. The crew tried to detain them in a cabin, but the stowaways did not want to be locked away in a cabin and became violent and that raised the security alarm.
‘The assumption the flagged [state] is working on is that these stowaways came from Nigeria, where the destination started for this ship on October 6, and the assumption is they boarded through the rudder trunk of the vessel and have been hiding on the vessel ever since.’
Mr Meade said the crew had been in contact with officials in Liberia, where the ship was registered, suggesting they were still in control of the ship throughout.
He said: ‘I have this information from the Liberian ship register so if the crew and the skipper have communicated this level of detail…that suggests that they were in a position to be in communication and therefore in control.’
He said the working assumption was that the stowaways boarded the 228-metre long, 32-metre wide ship in Lagos, where it had set off from on October 6, and that they were Nigerian.
A source close to the shipping company said that crew had been aware of stowaways on board for some time, but that they had turned violent when the crew tried to lock them in the cabin as the vessel approached Britain.
The crew then retreated to the ship’s secure citadel, where attackers are unable to enter, the source added.
Stowaways on board Nave Andromeda made ‘verbal threats towards crew’ but no-one has been reported injured, according to Hampshire Police.
Two coastguard helicopters were scrambled to the scene and were spotted circling the ship on Sunday afternoon, while an exclusion zone of five nautical miles was set up in the area south of Sandown.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman 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.’
Home Secretary Priti 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.’
Crew members reportedly sought shelter in a safe room on the Liberian-registered oil tanker, named the Nave Andromeda, which was due to arrive at Southampton at 10.30am
The vessel was due to be heading to Southampton this morning (pictured left). A more zoomed in version (right) shows how the ship made a number of zig-zag movements
The Nave Andromeda is a crude oil tanker which carries the Liberian flag. The tanker was seen taking a ziz-zag type path near to the Isle of Wight today
Dr Chris Parry warned the world was seeing ‘more and more of these incidents,’ which was the second to happen in Britain since 2018
Maritime Risk Expert Christopher Parry told Sky News: ‘This sort of thing is the sort of thing the SBS trained to do. Ever since we had oil rigs in the North Sea this sort of operation has been the bread and butter to the Special Boat Service and specialist commandos.
‘We want to send out a message – don’t mess with us. Don’t try and come into our maritime zone and expect to stowaway, or indeed come in for any other reason, you will be met with appropriate force if necessary.’
A source on the Isle of Wight claimed during a mayday call this morning 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, they needed rescuing… It was desperation, you could hear the fear in his voice.’
A Hampshire police spokesman said: ‘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.’
It was originally suggested that the tanker had been hijacked, but lawyers representing the owners of the vessel, which had come from Nigeria, today told the BBC the incident was ‘100 per cent not a hijacking’ (pictured: The stern of the oil tanker Nave Andromeda lit up by police boats as the SBS stormed the tanker yesterday evening)
A police officer observes Nave Andromeda, after it anchored off the east coast of the island
The incident comes after an incident in which a group of stowaway ran amok on a cargo ship in the Thames Estuary in December 2018.
The men, from Nigeria and Liberia, waved metal poles and threw faeces and urine after being found hiding on the vessel, which was bound for Tilbury docks in Essex.
The group demanded to be dropped off in Britain. They were arrested and jailed in January for affray offences following a trial at the Old Bailey in January.
Today’s incident is near to the location where the 52,000 ton cargo ship the Hoegh Osaka was deliberately grounded to prevent it from capsizing after it began listing as it left port.
The vessel, which was carrying 1,400 cars, including Rolls Royces and Bentleys, became grounded on Bramble Bank in the Solent in January 2015, forcing emergency services to rescue all 25 crew members on board.
The Nave Andromeda was built in 2011 and weighs 42,338 tonnes. It was last known to be docked in Lagos, Nigeria on October 6. Though the ship is registered in Liberia, it is understood the ship is Greek-owned (pictured: The ship off the Isle of Wight coast)