Nave Andromeda incident

Nave Andromeda incident
Time25 October 2020
LocationEnglish Channel, off the coast of the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom
Also known asNave Andromeda hijacking
TypeSuspected maritime hijacking, stowaway incident
Participants
OutcomeSeven stowaways safely detained

The Nave Andromeda incident took place on 25 October 2020 in the English Channel just off the coast of the Isle of Wight following the suspected hijacking of the Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker Nave Andromeda. Concerns were raised for the safety of the ship's 22 crew members and military assistance was sought to bring the incident to a safe end. The maritime special forces unit, the Special Boat Service (SBS), subsequently boarded the vessel and safely detained seven stowaways.

Summary

Preceding events

On 5 October 2020, Nave Andromeda, a 228-metre-long (748 ft) crude oil tanker registered in Liberia, departed Lagos, Nigeria en route to Southampton, England. The ship was due to dock in Southampton at 10:30am and, according to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, was not carrying oil. During its voyage, the ship anchored off the coast of the Canary Islands and Saint-Nazaire. The ship's crew and its operator, Navios Tanker Management, became aware of the presence of stowaways, something it was aware of "for some time" during the ship's journey, including when it called into France and Spain. Both the French and Spanish authorities, however, denied a request for the ship to berth in order to disembark the stowaways.

Incident

On 25 October 2020, whilst the ship was off the coast of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel, the stowaways became violent after the crew had attempted to lock them in a cabin, smashing glass, making threats to life and threatening "to do something with the ship". The crew then locked themselves in the ship's citadel in accordance with the ship safety manual Best Management Practice 5th Edition (BMP5). The seven stowaways, who were believed to have accessed the ship via its rudder trunk, were spread across the ship, with two on the bridge and the rest midship. When the stowaways surrounded the control room, a mayday call was issued at around 9:00am, which was responded to at 10:04am by Hampshire Police with support from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and UK Border Force. The authorities did not believe the incident was terror-related or related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), however the ship's erratic movements raised concern for the welfare of the 22 crew members. An exclusion zone of 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) was declared around the ship, in addition to a no-fly zone below an altitude of 5,000 feet (1,500 m). A stand-off then ensued, with the crew confined to the citadel for approximately 10 hours, whilst the ship was watched closely by police and coastguard helicopters. RNLI lifeboats were also dispatched from Selsey and Bembridge. When the ship dropped anchor, despite instructions not to do so, suspicions were raised that control of the ship had been lost to the stowaways.

Rescue

On the evening of 25 October 2020, Hampshire Police made a formal request for military support to help regain control of the ship. This request was approved by the Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel. When the request was subsequently authorized, 40 military personnel were deployed to the scene via a Chinook helicopter, which included the maritime special forces unit, the Special Boat Service (SBS), based in Poole, Dorset. Additionally, Royal Navy mine clearance divers were also put on standby in case the ship had been mined.

When the night fell, 16 SBS operators boarded the ship, with some fast-roping from two Royal Navy Merlin helicopters and the others climbing up the side from rigid inflatable boats. They were watched over by snipers in a Wildcat helicopter and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond was also reportedly on standby to assist. The captain of the ship remained in constant communication with the authorities and turned off the ship's lights to allow the helicopters to conduct "obscurant tactics" — shining their lights so as to disorient the stowaways. In just seven minutes, the 10-hour stand-off came to an end, with the stowaways detained and the crew said to be "safe and well". Despite the darkness of the night, the operation was observable from the shores of Ventnor.

The stowaways were arrested by Hampshire Police "on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force" whilst the crew were questioned by investigators. The motives behind the stowaways are yet to be confirmed but political asylum-seeking is suspected, according to Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping.

Aftermath

Following the incident, Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the police and armed forces, stating: "Both police and armed forces did a fantastic job and I thank them very, very much for what they did to keep our shores safe". The Home Secretary Priti Patel stated: "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". The incident highlighted the risks of navigating through the re-emerging piracy hotspot of the Gulf of Guinea. The operator of the ship, Navios Tanker Management, based in Greece, thanked the UK authorities for their "timely and professional response".

In January 2021, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped its case against the seven stowaways after evidence analysis cast doubt over whether or not the ship and its crew were in danger. The CPS stated that initial reports indicated there was a "real and imminent threat" to the vessel, however evidence — including mobile phone footage and witness accounts — didn't show that the ship or its crew were threatened, nor was there any evidence to suggest the stowaways had any intention to hijack the ship. The stowaways remain detained under immigration regulations.

In March 2021, The Guardian published an interview with one of the stowaways, in which he said he and his fellows had not attempted to hijack the vessel, but rather had approached the ship's crew after the crew members' routine changed and they became concerned the ship was sinking. Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused Patel and Wallace of overreacting in their response to reports from the ship, and described their behaviour as "a farce".


This page was last updated at 2021-11-21 04:48 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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