An exclusive interview by the Guardian has raised questions over whether the UK government’s response to the hijacking of the tanker in the Solent was proportionate.
The Guardian Newspaper has published details of an interview with one of the seven stowaways accused of hijacking the tanker Nave Andromeda in the Solent last year. The interview casts doubt on the Westminster government’s version of events and raises questions over whether the deployment of the SBS was proportionate to the threat posed by the asylum seekers.
One of the group told the Guardian that they only approached the tanker’s crew after they believed they had been left to drown.
There have been calls for an inquiry into the incident which happened off the Isle of Wight on 25th October last year. The hijacking, as it was reported in the media, made international headlines because 16 members of the Royal Marine Special Boat Service, based just miles away in Poole were deployed to deal with the incident.
Images of the deployment made for exciting viewing as the 16-man team fast-roped to the deck of the tanker, while snipers covered them from a nearby helicopter. The decision to board the vessel mid-Solent was taken by the home secretary Priti Patel and the defence minister, Ben Wallace said at the time: “People are safe tonight thanks to their efforts”.
One of the stowaways, John [a pseudonym], has now claimed asylum and said that on the day of the raid, all seven members of his group were locked in a cabin, and had been for 12 days since being discovered by the crew.
The 27-year-old said: “Everything was very quiet on the ship. We thought maybe the crew had left because the ship was sinking and they were leaving us to drown. We shouted but nobody came. We waited for many hours and then broke down the cabin door and went up on deck.”
The group boarded the vessel in Lagos and after being discovered were treated well by the crew, who brought them food and water and allowed them to take exercise on deck. John said the routine only changed the day the SBS boarded the ship and all seven of the group were shocked when they saw the special forces team.
“They came down from the chopper like they were going to war. They had guns and they couldn’t let us look into their faces. They told us to lie belly down on the deck. There’s nobody on the planet who wouldn’t have been frightened about that.”
The group were handed over to Hampshire Police and were expected to be charged with hijacking offences, but two of the group were only charged with offences relating to conduct endangering ships. Later, on 8th January, it transpired that all charges had been dropped against the men.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stated that initial reports indicated “a real and imminent threat” to the vessel, but accounts by the crew and mobile phone footage did not substantiate this. The Home Office said it was frustrated that the CPS decided not to bring any charges.
“At first they said we were sea pirates but there was no evidence of that,” John said. “They said we tried to hijack a ship. Such an incident didn’t happen. I’m happy we had a good crown prosecutor who went through the case properly.”
John’s claim for asylum is now being considered and Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats said: “Ministers’ massive over-reaction was a farce. There must be a serious review into the poor judgment in this case to restore confidence in the chain of command.”
Politicians and human rights campaigners have now called for an inquiry into the deployment and have questioned the veracity of official accounts of the action.