It was a ten hour break at sea culminating in nine minutes of ruthless military precision.
Special boat service commands stormed the Nave Andromeda with a classic pincer movement.
Two heavily armed squads, wearing night vision goggles and thermal imaging devices, roped the ropes from helicopters at either end of the tanker before approaching seven Nigerian stowaways who quickly surrendered.
Special boat service commands stormed the Nave Andromeda with a classic pincer movement
While the police continue to question the suspects, the mail records the structure of the flawless operation on Sunday evening.
The seven stowaways slid aboard the Andromeda Nave just before the oil tanker left the Nigerian port of Lagos three weeks ago on October 6th.
After a brief stop off the coast of Saint-Nazaire in France, it was on the way to collect gasoline from the Fawley Oil Refinery near Southampton when the drama unfolded.
The presence of the stowaways became known to the crew at some point during their 20-day trip to the UK.
The seven stowaways slid aboard the Andromeda Nave just before the oil tanker left the Nigerian port of Lagos three weeks ago
Officials believe they got on through the ship's oar suitcase.
"Security in third world ports is not as high as in the west, so it is relatively easy to get through fences," said maritime expert David Osler. "The International Maritime Organization guidelines mandate that ships be found before departure, but sometimes stowaways slip through."
The captain was praised by the ship's owner, Navios Tanker Management, for his "exemplary reaction and calm".
At around 9 a.m. on Sunday, the captain of the 42,000-ton tanker, a Greek-owned ship flying the Liberian flag, sent a distress signal six miles off the Isle of Wight when stowaways allegedly threatened to kill the crew. Tensions mounted when the crew attempted to lock the seven men in a cabin after telling them they would follow protocol and informing authorities of their presence.
Two weeks ago: Two weeks ago, three Nigerian stowaways were pictured on the rudder of a tanker
The oil tanker Nave Andromeda will be docked at the Southampton docks on October 26th
In a 21-second phone call published yesterday, the Greek captain asked for "immediate help" and described how the men were at large.
In heavily accented English, he said, “The stowaways go outside, I see a port side for four, amidships, near the distributor, and I have two of them starboard on the bridge. I'm trying to keep her calm, but I need agency support right away. & # 39;
The captain and 20 other crew members sought refuge in the ship's citadel, an emergency room used during pirate attacks after migrants "smashed glass and issued death threats".
From here they could control the ship and communicate with the authorities. Only the engineer, another Greek citizen, did not retire to the citadel. The engineer stayed in the engine room and took the instructions from the master. A source said: & # 39; The captain made it clear that he was afraid for their lives and urgently needed help, they needed to be saved. It was desperation, you could hear the fear in his voice. & # 39;
Stall for the time
An hour later, Hampshire Police received reports of "safety concerns" from the crew who had received "verbal threats".
The ship was supposed to dock in Southampton at 10.30 a.m. – but the captain decided the situation was too dangerous to approach the port. Instead, he steered the tanker on a circular zigzag course from the Isle of Wight to play for time.
The Nave Andromeda was built in 2011 and weighs 42,338 tons. It was last known to be docked in Lagos, Nigeria on October 6 (Image: The ship off the Isle of Wight on Sunday).
A restricted zone of three nautical miles has been set up around the ship. By 5:00 p.m., Hampshire Police had made a formal request to the Department of Defense for military assistance. The Royal Navy was given command of the operation and was authorized by Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace and Secretary of the Interior Priti Patel to use armed forces to board the tanker.
Two Coast Guard helicopters flew overhead throughout the afternoon, monitoring the situation. On land, an armed police unit set up a station on the Isle of Wight. Richard Meade from Lloyd & # 39; s List Intelligence marine service said: “Seven stowaways were discovered on board. The crew tried to keep her in a cabin, but the stowaways did not want to be locked in a cabin and became violent, which set off the security alarm. & # 39;
Positioning the troops
After taking control of the mission, the naval chiefs acted quickly to assemble an astonishing amount of firepower.
A Chinook helicopter gathered SBS troops and fast attack vehicles at the elite unit's headquarters in Poole, Dorset, about 15 miles away, and stationed them out of sight of the Andromeda Nave.
The frigate HMS Richmond was put on alert in the canal and divers were assembled in the event that explosive mines were placed on the ship's hull. Shortly before the attack, the captain of the tanker was asked to turn off the lights and turn to face the wind in preparation for the arrival of the special forces.
Storm the tanker
At around 7.30 p.m. – just over 10 hours after the first call on May 1 – the military chiefs ordered the attack.
A formation of helicopters rushed in, using a deafening noise and dazzling lights, known as "obscure" tactics, to disorientate the stowaways on board. The plan was to "overwhelm them with the sound of the rotor disks and let in plenty of light to blind them," a source said.
The Special Boat Service (SBS) robbed the tanker off the Isle of Wight last night after stowaways were found on board who threatened the crew. An officer is pictured on the boat
At least one Wildcat helicopter equipped with an electro-optical device to aid in night vision swept the deck for signs of hostile behavior. Troops on landing craft approached and scanned the tanker with sniper rifles. Two Merlin Mk 4 helicopters then approached in "dark mode" and took positions over the bow and stern of the ship.
Eight SBS soldiers lowered themselves to the deck with a rope at each end and came together in a pincer movement in the middle of the ship.
The units wore night vision goggles with thermal imaging cameras to detect human heat sources and approached the seven stowaways grouped in one place on the deck.
They were not believed to be armed and quick to surrender.
It took SBS less than nine minutes to arrest the suspects, secure the tanker and lead the crew out of their panic room. About 40 minutes later, the Department of Defense confirmed that the armed forces "took control of the ship and seven people had been arrested". The seven Nigerians were immediately arrested on suspicion of having captured or controlled a ship with threats or violence.
They are all being held in police stations across Hampshire.
The investigators speak to the crew members to determine the exact circumstances of what happened. The ship, which can carry up to 42,000 tons of crude oil, is now in the port of Southampton.
An aerial view showing the docking of Nave Andromeda in Southampton around 2:30 a.m. following Sunday's dramatic events
Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace paid tribute to the courageous staff who stood up to the "dark skies and deteriorating weather" to ensure the safety of the ship's crew.
Former Rear Admiral Chris Parry said, “From the time the helicopters pulled in and the SBS was tied to the ship, they rounded people up pretty quickly.
"I think the stowaways themselves accepted that this was likely the end of the journey for them, and there probably was no point in opposing heavily armed men who approached them."
A Hampshire police spokesman said: “The ship sailed towards Southampton after sailing from Lagos, Nigeria. It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board and threatened the crew.
Police arrested seven people after police responded to several authorities with the support of the military and other emergency services partners. All 22 crew members are safe and sound. & # 39;
Tanker hijackers could experience life behind bars
By David Barrett and David Churchill for the Daily Mail
Seven stowaways seized by special forces during a daring operation faced long prison sentences last night for hijacking an oil tanker.
The suspects were arrested under maritime laws, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
They allegedly threatened the 22-person crew of the 42,000-tonne Nave Andromeda, which was sailing from Lagos, Nigeria to Southampton.
Sent in troops: Interior Minister Priti Patel gave the go-ahead during the tense kidnapping on Sunday
Special commands from the boat service stormed the tanker from the Isle of Wight on Sunday evening after the terrified captain of the ship radioed for help.
questions and answers
What will the police do now?
The police will take a picture of the activities of the suspected kidnappers aboard the Andromeda Nave.
You will also likely investigate electronic systems that record ship-to-shore and ship-to-shore communications. This is known as a Voyage Data Recorder (VDR), similar to the "black box" on board commercial aircraft.
What is the kidnapping and piracy law?
The seven were arrested under Section 9 of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act of 1990, which deals with kidnappings. The law states: "Anyone who unlawfully, through the use of force or through threats of any kind, seizes or controls a ship is committing the offense of hijacking a ship."
Richard Neylon, a maritime law expert with the HFW law firm, said: "If you are trying to take control of a ship and you have nothing to do with being on board that ship, the threshold under this legislation is pretty low. " The maximum sentence under the law is life imprisonment.
What could happen to the suspects?
Whether or not Nigerians are charged with a crime, it is unlikely that they will be removed from the UK quickly. Previous cases have shown that kidnappers were able to successfully challenge the Home Office.
For example, in February 2000, nine Afghan men hijacked an Ariana Afghan Airlines Boeing 727 and forced the pilot to land in Stansted. A siege with the kidnappers and 187 passengers and crew members lasted five days. The kidnappers were jailed, but their beliefs were later reversed.
In 2006, they took legal action allowing them to stay in the UK.
What happens to other Nigerian asylum seekers?
There were 1,279 asylum applications from Nigerians that were decided by the Interior Ministry in the year ending in March – but the majority were rejected.
Only 398 led to asylum or other vacation allowances, or just over 31 percent. The rest were rejected or withdrawn, as data from the home office show.
It is unclear how many of those who were rejected have been removed from the UK.
According to a research report by the House of Commons Library, there were just over 26,000 asylum applications from Nigerians in 2019 that were decided across the European Union.
Of these, only 16 percent – or 4,795 – were initially approved.
The nameless navigator said in broken English on an open radio station: "I'm trying to keep you calm, but I need immediate, immediate agency assistance."
He added that two of the intruders were on the starboard side near the bridge, although they had no access.
In other radio messages, the captain is said to have said that he was afraid for his life and that of his crew.
The Greek-owned tanker flying the Liberian flag left Lagos on October 5, where the stowaways "boarded the ship illegally," said a spokesman for operator Navios Tanker Management. The SBS operation was approved by Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace and Secretary of the Interior Priti Patel. A source close to the Home Secretary said the 45 minutes it took to resolve the situation felt like 45 hours.
The heavily armed troops descended to the tanker on a rope from four Royal Navy helicopters after dark.
The elite soldiers quickly rallied the suspected kidnappers and ended their mission after just nine minutes.
The seven suspected kidnappers, who were seized on Sunday evening, were interviewed at separate police stations in Hampshire last night after the 750-foot tanker moored in Southampton.
A Hampshire Police spokesman said: "It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board and had made threats against the crew."
He added: & # 39; All 22 crew members are safe and sound and the ship is now in the Port of Southampton. Investigators speak to the crew members to determine the exact circumstances of what happened. & # 39;
Bob Sanguinetti, UK Chamber of Commerce General Manager, said: “I think this has all the hallmarks of a situation where a number of stowaways seek political asylum, presumably in the UK. At some point they got aggressive. Obviously no one knew at the time how aggressive they were, whether they were armed or not, and what their motives were.
"In discussions between the ship's captain and the British authorities – both the police and the military – at some point they decided that the least risky option was to go aboard the ship with the special forces."
The drama repeated an earlier case of stowaways that took place on board a cargo ship in the Thames Estuary in December 2018.
Four Nigerians were hiding aboard the Grande Tema in Lagos and became disruptive when the ship entered British waters. The four tried to fight off an SBS boarding group by threatening to infect it with HIV, but were eventually arrested and prosecuted.
At least one of the crew made gestures that cut their throats, as evidenced by the CCTV footage played in court. However, after an eight-week trial at the Old Bailey, they were released from attempting to hijack the ship and convicted of affronts.
Two were also found guilty of making death threats. They were detained for a total of seven years.
This case highlights potential difficulties in securing convictions under kidnapping laws.
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