Isle of Wight stowaways sparks warning of 'terrorist' threat

SBS commandos pounced after violence erupted when tanker crew threatened to report stowaways and captain sent panicked mayday message ‘I’m trying to keep them calm’ – as ex-rear admiral warns ‘next time it could be terrorists’

  • Nigerian stowaways ‘threatened to kill crew’ on Liberian vessel near Isle of Wight
  • Came after crew tried to lock them in cabin prior to handing them to UK officials 
  • Ex-Navy officer said: ‘Next time it may not be, stowaways it could be terrorists’ 

Violence erupted on a tanker that had to be seized by special forces commandos after the crew tried to lock seven stowaways in a cabin after announcing they would hand them in to British authorities, it emerged last night. 

The captain of Nave Andromeda, a Liberian-flagged tanker, made a panicked mayday call at around 10.30am saying ‘I’m trying to keep them calm but please send help’ after confronting the men as his ship sailed by the Isle of Wight. 

He ordered the crew into the ship’s citadel, a form of safe room, and ‘clearly feared for their lives’ after the stowaways smashed glass and made threats to kill, according to a source. 

All of the stowaways are in custody after 16 commandos dropped on to the 42,000-ton oil tanker and secured the 22 members of crew safely in around nine minutes, after the captain launched a mayday call yesterday morning.

Officers and coastguard crews were called after a group of stowaways were reportedly discovered on a Liberian-registered ship as it made its way to Southampton

Rear Admiral Dr Chris Parry told Good Morning Britain today: ‘Next time it may not be just stowaways. It could be terrorists, it could be people smugglers or anything.

‘We’ve got to approach this problem in a much more sophisticated way, we’ve got to up our intelligence.

‘We’ve got to demand more from shipping companies and also from foreign countries with whom we do business. 

‘We’re into a whole era now of mass migration and I think that covers a lot of things that we probably won’t want to happen in our vicinity or in our country.’ 

Richard Meade, of the Lloyd’s List Intelligence maritime service, said he had been told by sources close to the ship’s owners that the crew had tried to detain the stowaways in a cabin.

He said: ‘Seven stowaways were discovered on board the vessel. The crew tried to detain them in a cabin, but the stowaways did not want to be locked away in a cabin and became violent and that raised the security alarm.

‘The assumption the flagged [state] is working on is that these stowaways came from Nigeria, where the destination started for this ship on October 6, and the assumption is they boarded through the rudder trunk of the vessel and have been hiding on the vessel ever since.’

Mr Meade said the crew had been in contact with officials in Liberia, where the ship was registered, suggesting they were still in control of the ship throughout.

He said: ‘I have this information from the Liberian ship register so if the crew and the skipper have communicated this level of detail…that suggests that they were in a position to be in communication and therefore in control.’

He said the working assumption was that the stowaways boarded the 228-metre long, 32-metre wide ship in Lagos, where it had set off from on October 6, and that they were Nigerian.  

Dr Chris Parry warned the world was seeing ‘more and more of these incidents,’ which was the second to happen in Britain since 2018

Crew members reportedly sought shelter in a safe room on the Liberian-registered oil tanker, named the Nave Andromeda, which was due to arrive at Southampton at 10.30am

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘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.’ 

It was originally suggested that the tanker had been hijacked, but lawyers representing the owners of the vessel, which had come from Nigeria, today told the BBC the incident was ‘100 per cent not a hijacking’.

A source close to the shipping company said that crew had been aware of stowaways on board for some time, but that they had turned violent as the vessel approached Britain. The crew then retreated to the ship’s secure citadel, where attackers are unable to enter, the source added.  

The Nave Andromeda pulled into Southampton last night after a 10-hour standoff ended when special forces commandos stormed the ship.  A source close to the shipping company said that crew had been aware of stowaways on board for some time

It was originally suggested that the tanker had been hijacked, but lawyers representing the owners of the vessel, which had come from Nigeria, today told the BBC the incident was ‘100 per cent not a hijacking’ (pictured: The stern of the oil tanker Nave Andromeda lit up by police boats as the SBS stormed the tanker yesterday evening) 

A police officer observes Nave Andromeda, after it anchored off the east coast of the island

The stowaways made ‘verbal threats towards crew’ but no-one has been reported injured, according to Hampshire Police.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘Tonight we are thankful for the quick and decisive action of our police and armed forces who were able to bring this situation under control, guaranteeing the safety of all those on board.’

Dr Parry added: ‘Our maritime border needs to be secure, we need a single authority looking after our off shore zone.

‘We need to demand more from shipping companies when they leave those parts of the world where they have these problems.

‘But the Royal Navy is ready to assist the Government and our people in making our country secure and I think this is fantastic example. 

‘The First Sealord Tony Radakin would have have been involved in authorising this and I think he’ll be very pleased.’ 

The Nave Andromeda was built in 2011 and weighs 42,338 tonnes. It was last known to be docked in Lagos, Nigeria on October 6. Though the ship is registered in Liberia, it is understood the ship is Greek-owned (pictured: The ship off the Isle of Wight coast) 

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