British police said on Sunday they were dealing with an incident on board a tanker off the Isle of Wight on England’s south coast after stowaways threatened the ship’s crew.
Police helicopters were seen flying over the Nave Andromeda, sitting six miles off the Isle of Wight. Some media reported that the vessel, owned by Greece’s Navios Maritime Acquisition, had been denied entry to the Port of Southampton earlier.
Vessel-tracking services showed that the Andromeda had navigated in unusual zigzags off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
Hampshire Constabulary, the local police force, said on Sunday evening that concerns had been raised with police at 10.04am about the welfare of the crew on board the vessel, which had been heading towards Southampton.
“It was reported that a number of stowaways were on board, and they had made verbal threats towards the crew,” the force said. “No one has been reported injured.”
John Thompson, co-founder of Ambrey, a maritime security firm that was providing advice to the vessel’s Greek owners on Sunday, said the incident was “definitely not a hijacking”.
“It’s stowaways who have got a bit rowdy with the crew,” Mr Thompson told the FT, adding that his company had stood down its anti-hijacking team.
Mr Thompson said his company had helped to put Navios Tanker Management, which manages the vessel on behalf of the owners, in touch with the correct authorities in the UK, such as border patrol, after the incident with the stowaways flared up.
Hampshire Police said a three-mile radius exclusion zone had been put in force around the ship.
“Police are currently working closely with our partners, including the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Border Force, to bring this incident to a safe conclusion,” the force said.
While piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off west Africa has made tussles over the control of vessels common in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, security incidents are extremely rare on board vessels in UK waters.
The Andromeda, capable of carrying 500,000 barrels of crude oil or refined products, last called at the Port of Lagos, in Nigeria, on October 4, according to vessel-tracking services.
The vessel’s tracking information indicated it was sitting high out of the water, suggesting it was empty or nearly empty. ExxonMobil, operator of the Fawley oil refinery near Southampton, said the vessel had been scheduled to call there on Monday to collect a cargo of gasoline.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it was assisting Hampshire Constabulary with the incident.
“The search-and-rescue helicopters from Lee-on-the-Solent and Lydd are in attendance,” the agency said.
Stowaways are a widespread problem in international shipping, with would-be migrants often able to board ships and hide amid the chaos of some big developing-world ports.