The Isle of Wight, U.K., known primarily as a national tourist destination, was the unlikely location of a maritime incident on October 25.
The crude oil tanker Nave Andromeda, which sails under the flag of Liberia, reported an incident while sailing off the coast of the Isle of Wight. The 748ft-long ship left Lagos, Nigeria on October 5, and was heading to an oil refinery near Southampton, a short distance from the Isle of Wight. It had not stopped en route.
Concerns were raised to police for the welfare of crew on board the vessel, which was situated approximately six miles off the coast. It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board, and they had made violent threats towards the crew. It is not known if they were armed but reports say they had smashed glass and threatened to kill crew members. It appears that the presence of the stowaways had been known for some time. They are thought to be Nigerian nationals seeking asylum in the U.K.
Following recommended best practice, when the stowaways reportedly became violent, the 22 crew members locked themselves in the ship’s citadel, which is a secure area, and a three-mile exclusion zone was put in place around the vessel.
The Ministry of Defence called the incident a suspected hijacking but the U.K. Chamber of Shipping said there was nothing to suggest the incident was a hijacking attempt. For some time, the vessel was tracked going in circles and taking erratic turns rather than sticking to its expected course.
Bob Seely, Conservative Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight, said the incident would be treated as a “marine counterterrorism” event and that the government would hold an emergency meeting to discuss the response.
In response to police requests, the Royal Navy mobilized its Special Boat Service (SBS) which led to a 10-hour standoff, where trained officers landed on the vessel from helicopters overhead. The action culminated in seven stowaways being detained by the police. All 22 crew members are safe and unharmed and the Nave Andromeda is at Southampton Port as of October 26. Investigations are now underway to determine the motive and further details of the incident.
Richard Meade, of the Lloyd’s List Intelligence maritime service, said the assumption is that the stowaways boarded through the rudder trunk of the vessel.
While this incident was effectively shut down, it does cause concern over what might have been – and what may be. Shipping operators, and departure and destination countries must increase communication and collaboration to ensure commercial shipping does not become an easy target for human traffickers or terrorists.