A daring “flash to bang” operation by the Special Boat Service (SBS) took just seven minutes after a group of stowaways threatened terrified crew members on the UK-bound Nave Andromeda yesterday evening.
Elite British commandos needed just seven minutes to end a terrifying standoff which saw oil tanker crew members fearing for their lives from violent stowaways.
The daring “flash to bang” operation saw 16 well-drilled Special Boat Service (SBS) troops storm the tanker as snipers in Royal Navy helicopters provided cover.
Some boarded the Nave Andromeda, off the Isle of Wight, by rope from Merlin and Wildcat helicopters while others scaled the side of the vessel from inflatable ribs – small boats which were deployed earlier in the afternoon.
They waited until they had the cover of darkness before swiftly retaking the vessel and freeing crew members in a show of “overwhelming force”.
Commandos, who are based in nearby Poole, detained all the hijackers as they swiftly regained control of the UK-bound tanker following a 10 hour standoff which left 22 crew members fearing for their lives.
The Libyan-flagged vessel had been sitting idle since around 10am, when a frantic emergency call said seven stowaways were threatening to kill those on board after crew members attempted to lock them in a cabin.
The captain – who Sky News reports was able to pass on information throughout the day – told authorities he “feared for his life” in a distress signal.
A reported 22 crew members sheltered in a safe room, known as a citadel, saying that the would-be hijackers were smashing glass and threatening to kill those onboard.
A frigate, the HMS Richmond, was also on standby but wasn’t needed during the “textbook” raid, it is believed.
Airborne snipers provided cover for the commandos, who were armed with assault rifles and night vision goggles, as they boarded the tanker.
More than 20 troops on helicopters were ready to board if needed, it is understood.
After the emergency call, two coastguard helicopters circled the ship, setting up an exclusion zone of around five nautical miles.
SBS commandos started preparing for the hostile swoop, the first in British waters since four men hijacked a vessel in the Thames estuary in 2018.
It is understood the captain was able to keep special forces informed on where the stowaways were, as the vessel contained a complex system of corridors where hijackers had plenty of places to hide.
The all-clear was given shortly after 7.30pm, with authorities confirming no crew members had been harmed and the stowaways were taken into custody.
Maritime Risk Expert Chris Parry told Sky News: “This sort of thing is the sort of thing the SBS trained to do.
“Ever since we had oil rigs in the North Sea this sort of operation has been the bread and butter to the Special Boat Service and specialist commandos.
“We want to send out a message – don’t mess with us. Don’t try and come into our maritime zone and expect to stowaway, or indeed come in for any other reason, you will be met with appropriate force if necessary.”
The tanker had left Nigerian capital Lagos on October 6, but it is thought the seven “hijackers” managed to remain hidden until Friday or Saturday.
When they were confronted, the men are believed to have turned violent and threatened to kill crew members.
The captain reportedly told an operator: “I’m trying to keep them calm but please send help.”
A source said: “The captain clearly stated he feared for their lives and needed urgent assistance, they needed rescuing…
“It was desperation, you could hear the fear in his voice.”
Following the operation Admiral Tony Radakin, first sea lord, said on Twitter: “BRAVO ZULU to the remarkable armed forces personnel involved.
“Also to their families, who support their loved ones while they remain ready at extraordinarily short notice to respond to such events.”
The Ministry of Defence stated: “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.”
A Hampshire police spokesman 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.
Richard Meade, managing editor of shipping news journal Lloyd’s List, earlier wrote on its website that he had received information that there were seven stowaways on board.
He later said: “The information I have got is that it was a case of stowaways being discovered on board and when the crew tried to get them into a cabin and tried to get their information, there was no documentation.
Mr Meade alleged: “They tried to get them into a cabin and that’s when the stowaways got violent – that doesn’t strike me as a hijacking, it’s a matter of stowaways.”