UK special forces have stormed a Greek-owned product tanker and taken seven suspected stowaways into custody.

The brief operation aboard the 75,000 dwt Nave Andromeda (built 2011) was reportedly carried out in just nine minutes by the UK’s elite special boat squadron (SBS).

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The UK Ministry of Defence confirmed that armed forces had “gained control of the ship” and that seven individuals had been detained.

"I commend the hard work of the armed forces and police to protect lives and secure the ship,” said UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

“In dark skies, and worsening weather, we should all be grateful for our brave personnel. People are safe tonight thanks to their efforts.”

The UK Ministry of Defence added that police investigations will now continue, while initial reports confirm the crew are safe and well.

'A bit rowdy'

All 22 crew members were said to have locked themselves in the ship's citadel, after the stowaways turned violent on being discovered.

Manager Navios Tanker Management said the master had advised the UK authorities that seven stowaways had been found on board during the passage from Lagos, in Nigeria.

"The master became concerned at the behaviour of the stowaways and requested that the authorities intervene,” the company said, according to the Financial Times.

John Thompson, co-founder of security consultancy Ambrey told the newspaper: "It's stowaways who have got a bit rowdy with the crew."

Thompson said his company had helped to put Navios in touch with the correct authorities in the UK.

Navios lawyers told the BBC the crew had been aware of the stowaways on board for some time.

'Quick and decisive action'

Concerns over the crew's welfare were raised at 10:04 GMT when the vessel was six miles off Bembridge, police said.

UK home secretary Priti Patel said via Twitter: “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.”

Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, told Upstream's sister shipping publication TradeWinds: “We understand the vessel has been boarded by security forces and made safe. We commend the swift action taken by UK personnel to secure the vessel and most importantly the safety of the crew.”

The tanker had been expected to dock in Southampton on Sunday to take on a cargo, but its course in the Channel became erratic, prompting calls for an intervention.

"This incident, if confirmed appears to be the second such incident involving the hostile takeover of a vessel in English waters, involving stowaways with the first such incident recorded onboard the 5720-lane-metre Grande Tema (built 2014) in December 2018," said UK security consultancy Dryad Global.

(This article first appeared in Upstream's sister shipping publication TradeWinds on 26 October, 2020.)