Monday, October 26, 2020

Another Attempted Hijack Foiled by UK Special Forces as Explosion Rocks Russian Tanker

One Incident Ends Successfully Whilst Another Tragically
Shipping News Feature

UK – NIGERIA – RUSSIA – Oil tankers taking the headlines over the weekend with an explosion in Russian waters apparently killing three from a crew of thirteen, whilst the in the UK a dramatic rescue by special forces defeated an attempt to wrest control of a vessel by seven stowaways attempting to hijack the ship.

The first incident on 24 October concerned the Russian flagged General Hazi Aslanov, a 6,400 dwt oil/product tanker, which was en route unladen from Kavkaz port to Rostov-on-Don when an explosion occurred. Three of the crew are missing since the incident whilst their ten colleagues were rescued.

The cause of the explosion is unknown at this time but the holds of tankers can prove far more likely to present problems if the tanks contain oil or chemical vapours, rather than when they are full loaded. The ship could not be steered and Russian press reports seven other ships and 200 personnel were involved in the rescue, after which the ship was put under tow.

The incident in the UK, which began around 22:00 on Sunday 25 October, echoes the Grande Tema incident in 2018, fortunately it seems with less violence involved on the part of the would be hijackers. As on that occasion stowaways were discovered aboard at some stage and the crew became aware of this and reported it to the vessel's owners at some point in her voyage.

After entering British waters the master of the ship, the Nave Andromeda, a Liberian flagged oil tanker of 75,000 dwt owned by Greek outfit Navios Maritime, and en route from Lagos in Nigeria to Fawley oil refinery in Hampshire, reported that the crew were being verbally threatened by the stowaways. The twenty two strong crew then followed Best Management Practices, a set of rules they will have no doubt been aware of, and retired to the ship’s citadel, locking themselves in.

Having received a distress call outlining the problem, local police turned to assistance from a Special Boat Service Unit, stationed in Dorset, and a three mile exclusion zone was imposed as the vessel lay off the Isle of Wight coastline. Royal Navy personnel, including frogmen, were also sent to the scene in case any form of mine had been attached to the vessel.

Six helicopters were involved in the rescue and a team from the SBS squad abseiled aboard and successfully took back control of the ship and apprehended the seven Nigerian stowaways in just nine minutes. Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said that the tactics employed were well-rehearsed, multi-agency protocols, and Home Secretary Priti Patel, who would have authorised the use of the military in company with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, tweeted she was:

”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".

Photo: A shot of the General Hazi Aslanov, looking aft from the deck toward the prow of the ship. The explosion has ripped up all the central area of the vessel in a blast which appears to have blown upward leaving the vessel with her entire central upper structure damaged or completely blown away.