An elite force of sixteen members of the Special Boat Service (SBS) has stormed a tanker stranded off the coast of the Isle of Wight and ended a ten-hour standoff between the crew and stowaways aboard the vessel. The operation, which took place under the cover of darkness and in challenging weather conditions yesterday evening, took a total of nine-minutes to complete and was overseen by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, himself.
The lightning-quick response from special operatives was prompted by an emergency situation created when several stowaways on board became violent and tried to take control of the Liberian-registered tanker, the Nave Andromeda.
Military helicopters, complete with airborne snipers, reacted at speed to bring the situation under control after they were placed on standby to deal with the security incident.
After receiving a request for military assistance from the Hampshire police at 5pm on Sunday evening, SBS troops, who are based in Poole, Dorset, put an emergency operation plan into action. Reports that the SBS had successfully detained the stowaways and relieved the crew had emerged by about 8pm.
At first, the incident was feared to have been an attempted hijacking, but the cause of the unrest was later revealed to involve seven stowaways who became angry with the crew. Police and coastguard helicopters had been already circling the tanker since the ship sent out a May Day distress signal earlier in the day.
The vessel, the Nave Andromeda, a Liberian-registered and Greek-owned ship, was to due to have docked at Southampton on Sunday morning. But, after following an erratic course across the Channel, it became stationary several miles beyond Sandown, off the south-eastern end of the Isle of Wight.
For a long while it was unclear what the precise position was on board the ship whose captain sent out a May Day distress signal at 9 am to the local coastguard authorities that there was trouble on board. The Ministry of Defence had also originally denied that it was involved in a security incident.
Lawyers for the owners of the Liberian registered vessel, the Nave Andromeda, with an oil cargo a 42,000 tonnes, clarified that the incident had not been provoked by hijackers.
Richard Meade, editor of shipping news journal Lloyd’s List, then said there were thought to be seven stowaways on board who become violent towards the crew, who then had to lock themselves in the “safe room” of the ship.
The online tracking website, Marine Traffic, showed that the Nave Andromeda was due to arrive at 10.30am yesterday but was instead stationary and situated off the southeast coast of the Isle of Wight, near the town of Sandown. According to the website, the ship’s course then showed several erratic movements, undergoing bouts of apparent zig-zagging.
A five-mile exclusion zone was immediately ordered by the local emergency services around the ship which was stationary to the south of the Isle of Wight. An exclusion zone means that neither aircraft nor vessels can enter an area within the five-mile radius without clearance. Pilots are also forbidden to fly within the designated area without permission from the aeronautical rescue coordination centre.
When the standoff continued for a ten-hour period and the local emergency forces were unable to resolve it, they called on the SBS to coordinate a military response.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, has showered praise on the SBS operatives who swiftly restored control, saying: “I commend the hard work of the Armed Forces and police to protect lives and secure the ship. In dark skies, and worsening weather, we should all be grateful for our brave personnel. People are safe tonight thanks to their efforts.”
In the aftermath of this dramatic episode, Bob Seely, the local MP, has said that the government will now be holding an emergency COBRA meeting today to discuss what happened.
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