LONDON – Seven Stowaways have been captured by British navy special forces as they stormed an oil tanker on the English Channel.
Hampshire police said Nigerians were being held at several police stations on suspicion of “seizing or controlling the ship through threats or coercion”. No charges have been filed against them.
Police said 22 crew members in Nav Andromeda were “safe and well” after the attack, which broke out just after dark on Sunday. Special boat service commandos were lowered from the helicopters by a rope up to the tanker, whose crew locked themselves in a safe part of the ship called the Citadel. Within minutes, the Stowaways were in control.
Maritime tracking websites showed the port of Southampton on the south coast of England early Monday.
Authorities are talking to staff to find out exactly what happened, police said.
The ship left Lagos, Nigeria on October 6 and was docked at Southampton on Sunday morning.
Navios Tanker Management, which operates the Liberian-registered vessel, said the ship’s master “was concerned for the safety of the crew due to the increasing hostile behavior of the Stowaves.” A 10-hour standoff ensued as the tanker circled an area southeast of the Isle of White south of Southampton.
“I think it has all the hallmarks of a situation where many in the UK seek political asylum,” said Bob Sangunishetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping. “At some point they were aggressive.”
“No one clearly knew how aggressive they were, whether they were armed or what their motives were, because there was confusion at that stage,” he said.
The Coast Guard scrambled helicopters to the scene, and authorities imposed a three-mile exemption zone around the ship. The UK government says Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Preity Patel have authorized military action on suspicion of hijacking.
The Special Boat Service is the Royal Navy’s Elite Maritime Terrorism Unit, and the government never comments on its actions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he could not comment on “operational details”.
“Both the police and the armed forces have done an excellent job and I am very grateful for the work they have done to keep our shores safe,” he said.