British armed forces forcibly boarded and regained control of an oil tanker Nave Andromeda in the English Channel on Sunday evening following a suspected hijacking, according to the UK defense ministry.
It sounded dramatic and the media ramped it. The essential ingredients were all in the mix – shady foreign hijackers (surely terrorists if not mere pirates …), a shady foreign tanker under a shady Liberian flag, and a Special Forces operation. But when the facts were revealed there were no injuries, no loss of life and no damage to property, and neither the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth nor Southampton were subjected to an apocalyptic attack. The drama proved to be nothing more than a woeful tale of human despair in the all too familiar shape of lost souls seeking a better life.
We should be grateful for the professionalism of the special forces, but we must also question why it happened at all. Firstly, there are questions about the timescale of the military response and, secondly, there are questions about why stowaways were still on a ship that was a few miles from British shores when it had visited both Spanish and French ports earlier in its voyage.
Seven Nigerian men detained after British special services stormed an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight have been bailedPolice have said
Off the Isle of Wight, a mayday was sent from the ship at around 9:00am on Sunday and the alarm was first raised by local authorities shortly after 10:00am, but it was 7:30pm before decisive action was taken. Why did it take the SBS over nine hours to board the ship? Was this strategic, using the cover of darkness, or was it due to a delay in receiving a go-ahead? At what time was approval for action issued through the combination of the COBRA committee, Ben Wallace – Defence Secretary, and Priti Patel – Home Secretary? Did the SBS have to wait nine hours, or did they receive a rapid green light and subsequently establish the threat was diminishing sufficiently to allow them to strike when it suited them? There are also worrying reports that the local police were effectively in charge of the entire scenario until the early evening, when they requested assistance from the special forces.
UK waters (and its national security) are sadly dealt with through the lazy attitude of out of sight and out of mind, and the UK is not alone here. The international community continues to fail to establish a practical framework for the shipping industry to operate under when it finds itself with stowaways or economic migrants plucked from danger in the open seas. Virtually no country in the world will take responsibility for these people when a ship tries to hand them over. Worse still is the punitive action taken by nation states, their judiciaries and local authorities against ships, their captains and their owners.
Captains are routinely detained and shipowners are routinely fined, and shipowners incur considerable costs in lost earnings, port expenses, and in mounting legal defences. So it would not come as a surprise to learn that perhaps the Nave Andromeda concealed the presence of its stowaways in both the Canary Isles and France, perhaps reasoning they stood a better chance if they waited until arrival in the UK? Stowaways usually reveal themselves within a day or two, usually because they are cold, hungry, and in need of medical assistance.
It would be interesting to learn when the Nave Andromeda first informed its head office of their presence, what was declared to the Spanish and French authorities and what their response was. If the local authorities colluded with the ship to conceal the stowaways, effectively passing the buck to the next country of call, that is both an object lesson and a damning indictment of a hopelessly flawed system.
The raid was carried out by around 16 members of the Special Boat Service (SBS), backed by airborne snipers, who secured the Nave Andromeda tanker in around nine minutes.
Maritime security in the UK is weak. The back door has been left open by a combination of underfunding, the lack of a comprehensive plan, and political indifference to even considering the need for such a plan. Rear Admiral Dr. Chris Parry commented in a BBC interview, “it could be terrorists next …” And he’s right! A well-planned attack could see a terrorist-controlled ship not just offshore but actually moored in a UK port before the slightest hint of suspicion was raised.
The UK was lucky this time. They were not terrorists, just poor migrants. Had they been terrorists, would the UK have had nine and half hours to get its act together? I don’t think so.
The climactic disaster scenario of my novel, The Ocean Dove, is rooted in plausibility and, just like the Nave Andromeda, could so easily happen – though I sincerely hope it doesn’t. Meanwhile, back in real life, these events are timely reminders of severe vulnerability if the world fails to act on maritime security.
Source: By Carlos Luxul, www.carlosluxul.com