Seven stowaways arrested on suspicion of taking control of ship by ‘threats or force’
Written by Rother Radio News on 26/10/2020
Seven stowaways who were found on an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight have been arrested on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by threats or use of force.
Hampshire Police has said it is leading the investigation into the maritime security incident, which ended when 16 Special Boat Service (SBS) commandos boarded the Nave Andromeda on Sunday night and regained control of the vessel.
The force said all men remain in custody at police stations across Hampshire, and investigators are speaking to the crew members to establish the exact circumstances of what happened.
“The seven men have been arrested on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force under Sec 9(1) and (3) of Aviation and Maritime and Security Act 1990,” the force said.
Navios Tanker Management, the operator of the tanker, said the master of the vessel had contacted the authorities after becoming concerned about “the increasingly hostile behaviour” of stowaways on board.
Following the incident, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the crew were safe after a swift response from the SBS, adding that they did an “exemplary job”.
He added: “I would like to pay tribute to the police and armed forces who did such an exemplary job… this is what they train for and this is what they’re there for, to protect our country and they did that to such a high standard.”
Navios Tanker Management said in a statement: “The UK authorities had been advised by the master that stowaways had been found on board and that he was concerned for the safety of the crew due to the increasingly hostile behaviour of the stowaways,”
“Happily no crew members were injured and all are safe and well.
“Navios Tanker Management wish to thank all the UK authorities involved in this operation for their timely and professional response.”
Hampshire Police received reports that a “number of stowaways” were on board and had made “verbal threats towards the crew” soon after 10am on Sunday as the ship headed towards Southampton, having set sail from Lagos in Nigeria.
The raid on the tanker was authorised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel in response to the “suspected hijacking” and after a tense 10-hour stand-off, the MoD said.
The SBS and two Royal Navy Merlin helicopters were involved, along with two Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday: “I can’t comment on the operational details.
“Both police and armed forces did a fantastic job and I thank them very, very much for what they did to keep our shores safe.”
Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall said the “textbook” operation was “pretty swift” and what is known in military terms as a “flash to bang”.
It was all over in seven minutes, maritime risk expert Chris Parry told Sky News, with the commandos being roped on board.
According to maritime tracking websites, the 228-metre long ship reached port in Southampton early on Monday morning.
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.”
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 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.”
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.
© Sky News 2020