All 22 crew on Nave Andromeda safe after SBS team storms vessel

Seven people, believed to be Nigerian migrants seeking asylum in the UK who had stowed away on crude oil tanker Nave Andromeda (IMO 9580405) before it left Lagos, Nigeria on October 6th, were detained on Sunday night, October 25th, after a Special Boat Services (SBS) team stormed the vessel.

The 22 crew members, who had sealed themselves in the vessel’s citadel, were safe.

The stowaways were detained after they were met with “overwhelming force” by the SBS team. Along with the SBS squad, a team of Royal Navy divers was deployed in one of the Royal Navy helicopters in case the vessel had been mined, It had not.

Members of the 16-strong SBS team fast roped down from four Royal Navy helicopters after dark, a risky operation, but one which is speedy and offers the benefit of surprise. This particular SBS operation took just nine minutes.

The stowaways were handed over to Hampshire Police on Sunday night; the ship later docked in Southampton.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said there had been a “threat to life”, adding that “if they were threatening to take control of the ship then, of course, that is a hijack”.

However, legal representatives of the operator had previously termed it “100% not a hi-jacking”. As it had been stated that the presence of the stowaways had been known for some time, it would appear that something happened as the vessel was approaching the port of Southampton on Sunday morning that led to a confrontation between the stowaways and the crew.

UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning October 26th that “nothing at this stage suggests that this was hijacking and in fact hijacking of this nature is extremely uncommon.”

Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorized the operation in response to a police request.

Hampshire Constabulary said the seven men were being held on suspicion of “seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force under Sections 9(1) and (3) of the Aviation and Maritime and Security Act 1990”.

Former Royal Navy officer Rear Adm Chris Parry told the BBC that the operation to take control of the ship was over in “under nine minutes”, adding that “from the time the helicopters went in and the SBS roped on to the ship, they rounded up the people pretty quickly. I think the stowaways themselves accepted this was probably the end of the journey for them and there probably wasn’t any point in resisting heavily armed men approaching them.”

Navios Tanker Management, operator of the crude oil tanker, said the master of the vessel became concerned for the safety of the crew “due to the increasingly hostile behaviour of the stowaways” who had “illegally boarded” in Lagos, Nigeria. Greece-based Navios thanked the UK authorities for their “timely and professional response”, adding that “Navios would also like to pay tribute to the master of the Nave Andromeda for his exemplary response and calmness and to all the crew for their fortitude in a difficult situation”.

A three-mile exclusion zone was put in place around the vessel.

The SBS last undertook such an operation in December 2018 when four stowaways were detained after they ran amok on container ship Grande Tema (IMO 9672090) in the Thames Estuary. Those men, from Nigeria and Liberia waved metal poles and threw faeces and urine after being found hiding on the vessel. When the ship reached the Thames Estuary the stowaways demanded to be dropped off in the UK. The crew barricaded themselves on the bridge behind bullet proof glass following threats. There then followed 14-hour standoff, before special forces attacked under cover of darkness to rescue the sailors

Those stowaways were later cleared at the Old Bailey of attempting to hijack the ship, but they were convicted of affray and were jailed for varying terms.

The four had secretly boarded the Grimaldi Group ship in Lagos, Nigeria, before it set off for Tilbury in the UK.

The captain found them on the lower deck ramp, close to the propellers, with two hanging over the rails in dangerous waters. The men were given food and water and placed into quarantine. However, five days later they broke out and demanded to be taken to the UK.

The ship was held off-shore in UK waters, unable to dock. In the middle of the night, special forces descended on the ship and detained the stowaways.

2011-built, Liberia-flagged, 42,338 gt Nave Andromeda is owned by Great Folegandros Ltd care of Navios Tankers Management of Piraeus, Greece. It is entered with Gard P&I on behalf of Great Folegandros ltd and with Generali Assurances for H&M on behalf of Navios Tankers Management.

2014-built, Italy-flagged, 71,543 gt Grande Tema is owned and ISM managed by Grimaldi Deep Sea Spa of Naples, Italy. Commercial manager is Grimaldi Group SpA of the same address. It is entered with North of England on behalf of Grimaldi Deep Sea SpA. It is entered for H&M with Norwegian Hull Club on behalf of Grimaldi Group SpA. Gard holds a subscription position.