LONDON – The UK military has taken control of an oil tanker that anchored in the English Channel after reporting on Sunday that there were seven stowaways on board that had become violent.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Interior Secretary Priti Patel authorized the action in response to a police request, the British Defense Ministry said. Police investigations will continue and initial reports confirmed that the tanker’s crew was doing well and well, the ministry said.
“I commend the hard work of the armed forces and the police to protect lives and protect the ship,” said Wallace. “In a dark sky and worsening weather, we should all be grateful for our brave people.”
The incident began on Sunday morning on the tanker Nave Andromeda registered in Libya. The coast guard took two helicopters to the scene and the authorities imposed a three-mile exclusion zone around the ship.
The Andromeda Ship left Lagos, Nigeria, on October 6 and was due to dock in Southampton, England, at 10:30 am on Sunday, according to the vessel tracking website MarineTraffic.com. The tanker had been circling an area about five miles southeast of Sandown, on the Isle of Wight, since about 10 am, according to tracking data.
Chris Parry, a retired Rear Admiral of the Royal Navy who is now a member of the Royal United Services Institute, told the Associated Press that he suspects stowaways became violent when the tanker approached the port and the crew withdrew to an area known as “the citadel” to maintain control of the vessel.
The captain probably wanted to avoid taking a fully loaded tanker to the densely populated area near the Portsmouth Navy base, where British aircraft carriers are based, while the incident was taking place, Parry said.
“You don’t want this ship around with that kind of thing going on,” he said. “And so the captain probably very wisely and in consultation with his owners, went to anchor on the Isle of Wight.”
Bob Seely, who represents the Isle of Wight in Parliament, said the British government is likely to call a meeting of its emergency committee to discuss the incident. The problems on the ship are of particular concern because of the tanker’s cargo and because the ship left West Africa, he said.
“I suspect that, due to the nature of this, it will be treated as marine counterterrorism,” Seely told Sky News. “The number of people in the UK who do this is very limited and the relevant units will undoubtedly be looking for options on what we could be doing.”
Parry said such incidents with stowaways are not uncommon and are likely to increase as migrants look for new ways to enter Britain.
“I think the most important thing to get out of this is that we have a world in motion, and the sea is the physical equivalent of the World Wide Web,” he said. “And people will discover how to move between countries by sea, by any other route that takes them from one place to another, where they can obviously make economic progress, improve their lives and escape all the horrors or disadvantages that were born inland. “