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

THE captain of an oil tanker begged for "immediate help" during a dramatic 21-second mayday call as stowaways stormed the bridge.

In tense scenes last night, heavily-armed anti-terror troops seized the vessel off the Isle of Wight after the fugitives had allegedly threatened to kill the captain and staff.

The captain of the Nave Andromeda, which left Nigeria on October 6, made a desperate mayday call to authorities on an open radio channel at 9am yesterday.

He said: "The stowaways go outside, I see four person port side, midship, near to the manifold, and I have two of them starboard side on the bridge but cannot coming inside.

"I try to keep them calm but I need immediately, immediately agency assistance."

In other radio messages, the captain is said to have claimed he "feared for his life" as the drama unfolded.

A source on the island said: "The captain clearly stated he feared for their lives and needed urgent assistance, they needed rescuing."

The source also said: "It was desperation, you could hear the fear in his voice."

Police boats and helicopters helped provide distractions as at least 16 SBS commandos took part in the swoop on the 42,000-tonne vessel — due to dock in Southampton.

How the dramatic raid unfolded:

  • Reports emerged of a oil tanker being 'hijacked' off the Isle of Wight yesterday afternoon
  • The captain had sent a mayday signal at 9am after fearing for the lives of himself and his crew
  • Seven stowaways reportedly smashed glass on board and threatened to use flares as weapons
  • The tanker zig-zagged in the English Channel before dropping anchor
  • SBS commandos swooped on the tanker and seized the stowaways

Under the cover of darkness, they descended from blacked-out helicopters and approached the vessel in fast attack boats.

The troops were lowered on ropes from two Merlin choppers, while a pair of Wildcat helicopters circled above the tanker, providing close surveillance of the target.

Commandos in boats also used grappling irons to climb aboard the 230-metre vessel while witnesses reported seeing blue flashing lights from police boats at the scene.

A source said: “The police lights were a distraction. This was an SBS operation from start to finish.

“Seizing ships is their bread and butter. They are happiest working in the dark.”

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

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".

Mr Meade said: "Seven stowaways, understood to have boarded the vessel in Lagos, Nigeria, became agitated towards the end of the voyage and wanted to leave the vessel.

"Tension flared when crew tried to lock the stowaways in a cabin, having informed them that the ship would be following protocol and informing UK authorities.

"Officials have still not confirmed the point at which the stowaways were discovered on the voyage. However, it is understood that crew had been aware of the stowaways on board for some time.

"The stowaways had no documentation when they were discovered by the crew."

Last night the Ministry of Defence said initial reports confirmed that the crew — believed to number between 15 and 20 — were safe and well.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorised armed forces personnel to board the ship in response to a police request after cops raised concerns for the welfare of the crew.

Mr Wallace said: “I commend the hard work of the armed forces and police to protect lives and secure the ship.

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

Ms Patel tweeted: “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.”

Border officials and cops boarded the tanker and spoke to the crew after the vessel docked in Southampton this morning.

The tanker had been due to dock in Southampton yesterday morning after a 19-day voyage from Africa.

The captain of the Nave Andromeda feared for his and his crew’s lives.

The stowaways turned hostile when crew members tried to lock them in a cabin.

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