UK special forces take back hijacked oil tanker Nave Andromeda

  • Oct 26, 2020
  • Weekly Times

It took special forces just nine minutes to regain control of an oil tanker after it was hijacked in the English Channel.

The Special Boat Service (SBS), a UK navy special forces unit that typically operates in secret, boarded the Nave Andromenda after it began showing signs of distress just off the coast of southern England.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence said armed forces had boarded the ship to “safeguard life” after it sent out a Mayday signal.

The ministry reported seven people had been arrested and the entire crew of 22 were safe and well.

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. (2/2)

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorised the armed forces to board the ship with Ms Patel praising the “quick and decisive action” of the nation’s armed forces.

“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,” Ms Patel tweeted.

Mr Wallace also praised the forces for their late-night operation.

"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.”

The Liberian-registered Nave Andromenda was just south of the Isle of Wight and about to dock in Southampton when it sent out a Mayday signal at 9am local time.

An hour later, police confirmed a number of stowaways were on board and they had made “verbal threats towards the crew”.

Refinitiv vessel tracking data showed Nave Andromeda had been expected to arrive in the English port of Southampton at 1030 GMT on Sunday. The vessel had left from Lagos, Nigeria, the data showed.

Richard Meade, the editor of shipping news site Lloyd’s List, told Sky News the crew had attempted to lock the group of stowaways in a cabin but the situation turned violent.

Instead, the 22 crew members were forced to flee to the ship’s citadel and lock themselves inside, where they called for help.

The UK defence ministry declined to confirm or deny the involvement of the SBS — in line with British government policy of not commenting on special forces operations.

But former Royal Navy warfare officer Chris Parry told Reuters the SBS had been involved. SBS operations are usually classified.

The navy’s Special Boat Service, considered a sister unit to the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS), is one of Britain’s most secretive special forces units.

An elite maritime counter-terrorism unit, the SBS traces its history back to World War II and has been involved in many of the conflicts of the past 70 years including Afghanistan and Iraq.

The SBS’s closest equivalent in the United States is the SEAL Team Six, or Task Force Blue.

In Australia, clearance divers are a similar equivalent.

Thousands of illegal economic migrants and would-be asylum seekers have sought to cross the English Channel from France to reach British shores this year, often paying people traffickers to help them traverse one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in overloaded rubber dinghies.

The Nave Andromeda’s registered owner is Folegandros Shipping Corp, and the vessel is managed by Greek shipping company Navios Tankers Management Inc., according to Refinitiv.

In December 2018, British forces stormed an Italian cargo ship and regained control after stowaways threatened crew as it sailed close to the southeast coast.

Originally published as Nine-minute takeover of hijacked ship