British special forces have recaptured a Greek-operated oil tanker in the English Channel after suspected stowaways reportedly hijacked the ship and its crew.
In what has been described as a “marine counter-terrorism” incident, troops from a navy special forces unit, known as the Special Boat Service, boarded the 288-metre Nave Andromeda near the Isle of Wight on Sunday morning local time after a distress call.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorised the armed forces to board the ship, “to safeguard life and secure a ship that was subject to suspected hijacking,” the defence ministry said.
“Armed forces have gained control of the ship and seven individuals have been detained,” the ministry said.
“Initial reports confirm the crew are safe and well.”
“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.”
The UK government would not confirm if the SBS was involved, in line with not reporting on special forces operations.
According to community news website located on the Isle of Wight, islandecho.co.uk, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker left Nigeria ealier this month and was anchored off the coast.
Between six and seven stowaways began verbally threatening the crew, who feared for their safety and locked themselves in a secure room.
Hampshire police said the crew had been subject to threats from the stowaways and that they were working with coastguard and border forces to resolve the situation.
“At 10.04am today (25 October) concerns were raised to police for the welfare of crew on board the Nave Andromeda – a vessel situated approximately six miles off the coast of Bembridge, Isle of Wight.
“The vessel had been travelling in the direction of Southampton.
“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, is currently in place near the vessel.
“Police are currently working closely with our partners, including the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Border Force, to bring this incident to a safe conclusion”.
Bob Seely, who represents the Isle of Wight in Parliament, said the British Government was likely to convene a meeting of its emergency committee to discuss the incident.
Trouble on the ship was of particular concern because of the tanker’s cargo and because the vessel started out from West Africa, he said.
“I suspect, because of the nature of this, it will be treated as marine counter-terrorism,” Mr Seely told Sky News.
Isle of Wight Radio reported all seven suspects are now in custody.