Special Boat Service Seize ‘Hijacked’ Tanker in UK Waters

The Nave Andromeda, a Greek owned, Liberian-flagged, oil tanker under sail from Lagos, Nigeria, was last night the subject of a dramatic UK Special Boat Service (SBS) opposed boarding operation after fears that the tanker had been hijacked in UK territorial waters.

By Sunday evening (GMT) on 25 October, the ship was off the Isle of Wight when the SBS struck. Two Royal Navy Wildcats from 815 Naval Air Squadron’s dedicated Maritime Counter Terrorism (MCT) Flight, likely carrying the aerial sniper overwatch and command and control elements, and two Royal Navy Merlins from 846 Naval Air Squadron’s MCT Flight carrying the assaulters were employed.

The tanker was in ballast with no oil on-board, reducing initial fears that the ship could be used as a bomb. Some 45 minutes after first reports of an incident on-board, the Nave Andromeda began a series of turns which prompted suspicions that the ship had indeed been hijacked and was in the hands of the hijackers. At times, the tanker was within six miles of the UK mainland.     

A visit, board, search and seizure team from HMS Monmouth (F 235) performs a fast-rope insertion on the flight deck of USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) via Monmouth’s EH-101 Merlin helicopter while at sea Sept. 8, 2007. (U.S. Navy photo by Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Alexis M. Diaz)

Hampshire Police were initially notified of an incident at 10:04 GMT. A request was made for military assistance under Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) legislation from Hampshire Police and a CH-47 Chinook was tracked by civilian air traffic enthusiasts flying from Poole, the home of the SBS, to a forward staging area. The Chinook likely carried the assaulters, snipers and support elements including attached Ammunition Technical Officers from the SBS Counter Terrorist Lead Assault Team, the rotational UK military counter terrorist response capability.

Seven, likely Nigerian, stowaways were discovered on-board. Reports indicate that verbal threats against the crew were made by the stowaways in response to an attempt to detain them in a cabin. The captain dropped anchor despite being told not to by UK Coastguard with the ship six miles to the south of the Isle of Wight. HMS Richmond, a Royal Navy frigate was stationed nearby to assist in the case of a pursuit.

Wildcat (Courtesy Royal Navy)

The 22 crew of the Nave Andromeda are believed to be safe and well after the operation. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace noted; “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.”

First indication that an operation was imminent was when two Police helicopters that had been providing aerial surveillance of the hijacked vessel were cleared from the airspace. The assault itself took a reported seven minutes from the first fast-rope to objective secure which clearly demonstrates the mastery of maritime counter terrorism enjoyed by the SBS.  

The operation appears similar to another conducted in December of 2018, which saw the SBS’ X-Squadron assault and seize the MV Grande Tema which was hijacked by four stowaways in the Thames Estuary. The SBS’ C-Squadron (reinforced by a troop plus from 22SAS) also conducted an opposed boarding against the MV Nisha in December 2001, under Operation Ocean Strike, as the suspect vessel crossed the English Channel heading for UK mainland.