British Special Force detains 7 Nigerian stowaways on board oil ship
British security special force has detained a group of seven Nigerian stowaways who were discovered hidden aboard an oil tanker as it headed into Southampton, South East England.
The seven stowaways, who were initially suspected to be hijackers were found aboard the Libyan-registered oil tanker near the Isle of Wight.
This triggered security concerns, with the ship sailors alerting the police at around 9am on Sunday, sources said.
British special forces stormed the Greek-operated oil tanker in the English channel in an apparent move to wrestle control of the vessel from seven stowaways who they claimed had threatened the crew in a suspected hijacking.
Troops from the Special Boat Service, a navy special forces unit whose headquarters in just a few miles away from where the vessel began showing signs of distress, boarded the Nave Andromeda near the Isle of Wight off southern England.
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.”
Crew members are reportedly sheltering in a safe room on the vessel, named the ‘Nave Andromeda’, with initial reports suggesting the incident was a hijacking.
However, lawyers representing the vessel’s owners, which had come from Nigeria, told the BBC the incident was “100 per cent not a hijacking”. The crude oil tanker is currently to the south of Bembridge.
Police have set up a five mile exclusion zone around the ship.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is being kept up-to-date on the incident, according to Sky News.
A spokesperson for the UK Chamber of Shipping 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.”
The developing incident was reminiscent of another in December 2018 when four Nigerian stowaways were found on another ship sailing into the UK.
When they were found, they hurled faeces at the sailors and vowed to infect them with HIV. They were however arrested and jailed in January this year for a total of seven years.
The 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 a source with knowledge of the matter said the SBS were involved. SBS operations are usually classified. Former Royal Navy warfare officer Chris Parry said the SBS had been involved.
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 Two 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.