Crew safe, 7 detained after UK special forces raid tanker

The operator of an oil tanker that was stormed by British naval special forces after a group of stowaways threatened violence says all the crew members are “safe and well.”

LONDON — All crew members of an oil tanker that was stormed by British naval special forces after a group of stowaways threatened violence are “safe and well,” the ship‘s operator confirmed Monday.

Seven people were detained in the raid, which unfolded in the English Channel after darkness fell on Sunday. Special Boat Service commandos were lowered by rope from helicopters onto the Nave Andromeda, whose crew had locked themselves in a secure part of the ship known as the citadel. Within minutes, the stowaways — believed to be from Nigeria — were in custody.

The Special Boat Service is the elite maritime counter-terrorism unit of the Royal Navy.

Navios Tanker Management, which operates the Liberian-registered vessel, said the ship’s master became “concerned for the safety of the crew due to the increasingly hostile behavior of the stowaways.” It said in a statement that all 22 crew members were “safe and well.”

Maritime tracking websites showed the ship reached port in Southampton, on England’s south coast, early Monday.

The ship had left Lagos, Nigeria, on Oct. 6 and had been due to dock in Southampton on Sunday morning. The raid followed a 10-hour standoff as the tanker circled an area a few miles southeast of the Isle of Wight, south of Southampton.

“I think this has got all the hallmarks of a situation where a number of stowaways are seeking political asylum, presumably in the U.K.,” said Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the U.K. Chamber of Shipping. “At some stage they got aggressive.”

“Clearly no one knew at the time how aggressive they were, whether they were armed or not, what their motives were, because there will have been confusion at that stage,” he said.

The coast guard scrambled helicopters to the scene, and authorities imposed a three-mile exclusion zone around the vessel. Suspecting a hijacking, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorized military action, the U.K. government said.

“I commend the hard work of the armed forces and police to protect lives and secure the ship,″ Wallace said. “In dark skies and worsening weather, we should all be grateful for our brave personnel.″