Great Britain

How 11-hour Isle of Wight oil tanker hijack unfolded: Urgent call to Boris, SBS snipers circling and flying command post

IT all started with a panicked “please send immediate help” cry from a ship’s captain.

What followed was reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster as 16 heroic SBS commandos stormed an oil tanker after violent stowaways “threatened to kill the crew”.

The heroic frogmen were lowered down from Merlin helicopters and remarkably took just seven minutes to bring the ship under control.

Others stealthily climbed on board from rigid inflatable boats using grappling irons.

Snipers were circling above in a Wildcat helicopter to provide assistance to the brave raiding crew who sprang into action after getting the green light from Westminster.

But what took just a matter of moments started some 11 hours earlier when a dramatic mayday call was issued by the ship's captain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson would have been contacted “immediately” after the captain begged for assistance at 9am.

The members of the SBS unit were from the Counter Terrorism Squadron which always keeps a group on "high alert" in Poole.


The unit is best prepared for storming a ship which is not in control of its crew.

The frogmen came out of one, possibly two, of the Merlin helicopters which were hovering above.

Chinooks were also deployed and sources suggest they may have had the flying command post - typically used by the Navy Seals.

Once on board, it only took the SBS seven minutes to seize the 42,000-tonne Nave Andromeda after getting the go-ahead from Government at 7.30pm.

The whole ordeal lasted 11 hours but The Sun Online can today reveal the conversation chain which saw the SBS launch yesterday’s dramatic mission.

According to Colonel Richard Kemp, the British Army’s former commander in Afghanistan, there would have been six steps before the SBS eventually stormed the vessel.

Firstly, the ship would have called the coastguard, who would in turn phone the local police.


  1. Ship calls coastguard
  2. Coastguard calls local police
  3. Local police call MoD as they can't deal with situation
  4. MoD contacts Home Secretary, Defence Secretary and PM
  5. PM then decides who makes decision
  6. Home Sec/Defence Sec/PM then give SBS green light to launch mission

Officers would have quickly realised the situation was “too big” for them to handle and they would have immediately contacted the Ministry of Defence.

Colonel Kemp, who has briefed the Prime Minister on similar situations during his time overseas, said the MoD would then alert the Home Secretary, Defence Secretary and Boris Johnson.

It is then up to the Prime Minister to decide who makes the decision to give the green light on any military action.

The sixth and final step is then down to whoever is making the decision - the PM, Home Secretary or Defence Secretary.

In this case, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel both authorised armed forces personnel to board the ship.

Colonel Kemp told The Sun Online: “The police would’ve known it was outside their capabilities so called in the armed forces.

“There are existing plans to deal with this sort of situation – there are well-established procedures put in place.

This decisions are usually made quickly – they ask a few questions and then away you go. Time is of the essence and there is no time to deliberate."

Colonel Richard Kemp

“The Ministry of Defence would typically go to the Home Secretary and Defence Secretary and explain the situation and brief them on the plan.

“The Prime Minister would also be notified immediately.

“The PM might want to make the decision himself or he might want to hand it to the Defence and Home Secretaries – but he would be informed of what that decision was.

“This decisions are usually made quickly – they ask a few questions and then away you go. Time is of the essence and there is no time to deliberate.

“In that meeting, there would be a Special Forces officer and perhaps someone from the MoD.

“While any briefing is waiting to take place the SBS are preparing straight away. They are preparing like mad to go if they were given the green light.


“From the time when their assistance is requested, they could be ready to go with a plan within just an hour.”

The stowaways, believed to be Nigerian, were quickly detained and handed to Hampshire Police for questioning after the dramatic scenes unfolded.

Hampshire Constabulary today confirmed seven stowaways have been arrested on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force under the Aviation and Maritime and Security Act 1990.

Today, a former Royal Navy officer warned it “could be terrorists next” and called for tougher border security measures.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Rear Admiral Dr Chris Parry warned that the next "hijacking" could involve terrorists.

Dr Parry said: “Next time it may not be just stowaways. It could be terrorists, it could be people smugglers or anything.

“We've got to approach this problem in a much more sophisticated way, we've got to up our intelligence."

Richard Meade, editor of shipping news journal Lloyd's List, said it is understood the crew had been aware of the stowaways "for some time".

He said he was told by sources close to the ship's owners that crew members "tried to detain the stowaways in a cabin" after they became hostile when the crew tried to lock them in a cabin.

Isle of Wight oil tanker captain begs for 'immediate help' as stowaways storm bridge in dramatic 21-second mayday call

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