Special forces storm tanker to end suspected hijacking off Isle of Wight

25 October 2020, 14:42 | Updated: 26 October 2020, 13:53

By Joe Cook

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

Hampshire Police said they were 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.

The force said in a statement today that seven men detained aboard the ship 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.

They remain in custody at police stations across Hampshire.

According to maritime tracking websites, the ship reached port in Southampton early on Monday morning.

Following the police's request for military assistance, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace authorised Armed Forces personnel to board the ship, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed.

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The MoD said in a tweet: "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."

Ms Patel later 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."

It came after Mr Wallace praised the work of the armed forces who had ensured the safety of the crew members.

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.”

Meanwhile, Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said: "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 of the crew."

Earlier reports that the ship had been highjacked were dismissed by lawyers representing the vessel's owners who said the incident was "100% not a hijacking".

A spokesman for Hampshire Police 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."

Richard Meade, editor of shipping industry news site Lloyds List told LBC: "Seven stowaways were discovered on the vessel.

"The crew tried to detain them in a cabin but the stowaways did not want to become locked in a cabin and became violent and that raised the security alarm."

Reports from Isle of Wight Radio and Sky News suggested crew members were sheltering on the ship, but the police did not confirm these reports at the time.

Earlier, a UK Chamber of Shipping spokesperson said: "We are aware of an incident onboard the Nave Andromeda off the Isle of Wight and are in contact with the relevant authorities.

"We believe it is likely to be related to stowaways onboard but are awaiting more information."

Close up maps from ship tracking site MarineTraffic.com shows the vessel zig-zagging south of the Isle of Wight.
Close up maps from ship tracking site MarineTraffic.com shows the vessel zig-zagging south of the Isle of Wight. Picture: MarineTraffic.com

Ship tracking site Marine Traffic showed the vessel zig-zagging south of the Isle of Wight. As of 3:15pm, the site listed the tanker as "underway using engine" travelling at 4.1 knots (4.7mph).

A restriction zone of three nautical miles was in place around the vessel, which is understood to contain 42,000 tonnes of crude oil.

Flight tracking site RadarBox showed a Metropolitan Police helicopter was circling above the ship during the incident.

Earlier in the day, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence told LBC: "There is no military involvement at this stage, but obviously things may change."

In a statement, HM Coastguard said: “We are currently assisting Hampshire Constabulary with an incident on board a vessel situated off the Isle of Wight.

“The search and rescue helicopters from Lee on Solent and Lydd are in attendance”.

An archive photo of the Nave Andromeda from 2012.
An archive photo of the Nave Andromeda from 2012. Picture: Bettina Rohbrecht/MarineTraffic.Com

A spokeswoman for Associated British Ports, which runs Southampton Port, said it had no comment on the incident.

It is understood the port received contact from the ship but it had not been refused entry to the harbour.

Meanwhile, Mick Cash, General Secretary of the RMT said: "We urge the UK Government to do all it can to prevent any harm coming to crew or anyone else on the Nove Andromeda.

"This is a troubling incident which must not escalate to further jeopardise crew welfare or maritime safety in what is an extremely busy area for merchant shipping."

"We must call on all parties, including the Greek shipowner to take action to resolve this incident safely and quickly."

Later, 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."