Following reports of erratic navigation and threats to mariners on board, the Royal Navy’s Special Boats Service (SBS) detained seven stowaways suspected of hijacking LR1 product tanker Nave Andromeda
UPDATE: French, Spanish and Portuguese authorities refused permission to disembark the stowaways, according to the initial investigation into the Nave Andromeda incident. This action echoes the situation of Maersk Etienne where local authorities refused permission for rescued migrants to disembark.
The regional police force in Hampshire, UK, and the UK Coastguard initially responded to reports of threats to mariners on board 2011-built, 75,000-dwt LR1 product tanker on Sunday (25 October).
After the call went out for military assistance in the incident, the SBS reportedly took control of the vessel within 10 minutes.
"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," a statement from the Ministry of Defence said.
"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."
According to a statement from the Hampshire Constabulary "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. It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board, and they had made threats towards the crew. Following a multi-agency response by police with support from the military and other emergency service partners, seven people were detained by police. All 22 crew members are safe and well. Police are investigating this incident and we have a number of enquiries to carry out to establish the full circumstances."
According to vessel tracking service VesselsValue, Nave Andromeda spent 20 days in Nigerian waters before sailing on 6 October 2020 for Southampton, UK. The LR1 tanker was in ballast.
The BBC reported that the crew were aware there were stowaways on board. On Sunday morning, the stowaways became violent. The crew retreated to the citadel and raised the alarm.
Local maritime authorities received a mayday distress call from Nave Andromeda while it was close to the Isle of Wight and UK waters and ordered marine craft to obey a three-mile exclusion zone and a five-mile aircraft exclusion zone was also instituted.
Maritime security specialist, Dryad Global reported that a UK Coastguard helicopter was on the scene, and on Sunday afternoon, this was replaced by a helicopter from another UK Coastguard base and a police helicopter.
Dryad noted the similarity with the GrandeTema incident in December 2018 when four stowaways were discovered on board the roro vessel. The vessel had sailed from Lagos, Nigeria, where it was believed the four stowaways had boarded.
When discovered, the stowaways were confined to a cabin by the crew but escaped and armed themselves with iron bars. The vessel was in the Thames Estuary at the time and it is believed that the stowaways’ aim was to force the crew to move the vessel closer to the river bank and swim ashore.
The incident ended when, in the cover of darkness, a Special Boat Service team fast-roped onto Grande Tema from helicopters and over-powered the stowaways. The stowaways were arrested by the local police force and charged under the Immigration Act.
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