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How special forces who train in and protect Pembrokeshire saved ‘hijacked’ oil tanker and 22 crew

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A ROYAL NAVY special forces strike group, who are regularly seen training in and around Milford Haven, was scrambled this week to assist the skipper of an oil tanker which had been stormed by stowaways off the Isle of Wight.

In a dramatic series of events, which raises potential security issues for all UK ports including The Port of Milford Haven, the vessel, the Nave Andromeda, made radio distress calls on Sunday morning (Oct 25) after failing to dock as expected in Southampton on the south coast of England at 10:30 HRS.

By evening, the boat was stormed by commandos from service, who detained seven individuals after they were met with “overwhelming force”.

Luckily for the crew of the Nave Andromedea the Special Boat Service (SBS), who are based at Poole were only a few minutes helicopter flying time away from the stricken vessel. It’s rare that Britain’s special forces are deployed on home territory, which makes the raid all the more remarkable.

Thanks to the skill of the men, many of whom trained in Pembrokeshire, the 22 crew were declared uninjured.

Four choppers flew the Special Boat Service out from their headquarters in Poole, Dorset.

They performed the rescue and the all clear was given just after 7.30pm.

A spokesperson for Hampshire police said Monday that seven men were arrested “on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force.”

“They all remain in custody at police stations across Hampshire,” the statement added. “Investigators are speaking to the crew members to establish the exact circumstances of what happened.”

During the altercation several stowaways made verbal threats to the crew on board the tanker, Hampshire police said in an official statement to press.

The 750-foot (228-metre) vessel is registered in Liberia, according to the Press Association.

Royal Navy special forces training in Milford Haven

The tanker was south east of Wight when the incident occurred.

Two coast guard helicopters were sighted circling around the vessel on Sunday, and a three-mile exclusion zone was placed around the area south of Sandown on the island’s east coast.

The tanker is currently docked in Southampton while the police inquiry continues, The Heald understands.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed in a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald: “In response to a police request, the Defence Secretary and Home Secretary authorised Armed Forces personnel to board a ship in the English Channel to safeguard life and secure a ship that was subject to suspected hijacking.

“Armed forces have gained control of the ship and seven individuals have been detained. Police investigations will now continue. Initial reports confirm the crew are safe and well.”

Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping said that the zig-zagging “could well have been a way of alerting the authorities.” The vessel would also have been in touch with authorities via radio, though, he added.

He said “the uncertainty here is over the motives of the stowaways and, like I said, it could be nothing more sinister than seeking political asylum.”

To rescue tanker crew SBS members descended from four helicopters

DISTRESS CALLS ON TAPE

A recording reveals the dramatic moment the captain of the oil tanker that was stormed by stowaways’ maydays for help.

During the call on an open radio channel, the captain says he is trying to ‘keep them calm’ but some of the intruders were outside the ship’s bridge.

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 off the coast of the Isle of Wight on Sunday morning.

The tanker is now docked in Southampton as the investigation continues

IN OUR BACK YARD

Naval insiders were relieved to have concluded the incident relatively quickly once the police asked for help. “This was happening pretty much in the Royal Navy’s backyard. I think they were keen to show they could put a stop to it,” a naval source said.

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, and the home secretary, Priti Patel, authorised armed forces personnel to board the ship in the Channel in response to a police request, the MoD said.

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.”

A GOOD OUTCOME

Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Commons defence committee, said the boarding of the tanker by British armed forces was a “good outcome”. “Seven stowaways onboard taking over a ship or causing the ship not to be in full command would have triggered a multi-agency alarm and then well-rehearsed classified protocols were put into action,” he told the BBC.

“Initially, it didn’t look like this was terrorist-related nor involving WMD, but the erratic behaviour [of the ship] was concerning. The safety of the crew was important, as is indeed any unauthorised movement towards the coast. I am pleased to see that swift action has been taken.”

SHIPS OWNER GRATEFUL

The ship’s operator, Navios Tankers Management, said the stowaways “illegally boarded” the Liberian-flagged tanker in Lagos.

A statement from the company said the master of the ship had become “concerned for the safety of the crew due to the increasingly hostile behaviour of the stowaways”.

The company thanked the UK authorities in the operation “for their timely and professional response”.

“Navios would also like to pay tribute to the master of the Nave Andromeda for his exemplary response and calmness and to all the crew for their fortitude in a difficult situation.”

The vessel left Lagos on 6 October. Lloyd’s List, the shipping newspaper, said it believed seven stowaways had boarded in Nigeria. Their presence had been discovered but they became violent when the crew attempted to lock them in a cabin.

PROTECTING MILFORD HAVEN

The SBS has been protecting shipping in Milford Haven for some time. The nature of the cargo of oil and LNG gas means that tankers inevitably depart from the middle east.

Last year the special forces joined the US carrier strike group currently deployed in the Persian Gulf, near Iran, in order to counter potential Iranian attacks on UK ships heading for Milford Haven and other ports.

In 2017, UK intelligence reports indicated jihadis from ISIS could have got their hands-on limpet mines, which can be attached to the hulls of ships.

It is thought they could be attached to the hulls of tankers carrying millions of gallons of oil with the resulting explosion strong enough to destroy an entire port.

Protecting Milford Haven: A clipping from the Scotland on Sunday

And frogmen from the Special Boat Service (SBS) and Royal Navy divers have been given the task of preventing it, with training taking place locally.

As well as SBS training, Milford Haven has hosted other major naval exercises. One such example was in 2013 with an exercise called Cambrian Trader. The four-day mission was designed to train the Navy’s Maritime Trade Operations specialists and prepare them for deployment in support of the Royal Navy anywhere in the world.

Together with Dyfed Powys Police, the Port of Milford Haven and members of the Army Reserve, the exercise involved well over a hundred people, yet it was almost unseen by the public because so much of the activity is waterborne, or at the Port’s Headquarters.

Bill Hirst, the then Harbourmaster said at the time: “As the third largest Port in the UK safely handling 29% of Britain’s seaborne trade in oil and gas, Milford Haven provides a great base for those wanting to understand how a busy commercial port operates.

Opportunities to exercise with the Royal Navy are rare and therefore we are pleased that they have chosen Milford Haven and are keen to support them.”

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North Pembrokeshire school closures explained

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PEMBROKESHIRE’S education chief has explained the decision to keep six North Pembrokeshire schools closed today (Tuesday, 24th November).

The schools – which were also closed on Monday following the increased spread of coronavirus in South Ceredigion – are:

• Ysgol Preseli
• Ysgol y Frenni
• Ysgol Llandudoch
• Ysgol Eglwyswrw
• Ysgol Cilgerran
• Ysgol Clydau.

The Pembrokeshire schools are closed as a precaution as they share services – such as transport – with the Ceredigion schools.
Pembrokeshire County Council’s Director of Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said the decision to keep the schools closed was
based around a series of meetings yesterday involving the Authority, Ceredigion County Council and Public Health Wales.

He explained: “Due to the sheer volume of contact tracing work the Cardigan situation has resulted in – and the widespread nature of the cases now across the town – many contacts remain to be spoken to.

“The view of the Incident Management Team in Pembrokeshire was to keep the schools closed to allow the contact tracing teams time to get hold of everyone they needed to and then review the decision later today.

“Everyone can be assured that it is our intention to re-open the schools at the earliest opportunity once we are satisfied that there will be no individuals within school setting who should be self-isolating.

“There will be an announcement this afternoon about the status of the schools currently closed and teaching staff will be in touch with families to arrange blended and distant learning.

“Officers are working hard dealing with this situation and we do appreciate the inconvenience caused. However, our priority has always been tackling this pandemic and ensuring that we stop the spread of the virus.”

Mr Richards-Downes added that he was grateful to teaching staff, parents and pupils for their co-operation in what had been a challenging few days.

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Masks now advised in all secondary schools

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PUPILS across Wales are now being advised to wear facemasks in all communal areas of secondary schools (including playgrounds), colleges and on transport to and from places of learning by the Welsh Government.

Although not compulsory, the new recommendations have been made by ministers to ensure a consistent approach in tackling COVID-19 across Wales.

People picking up and dropping off children are also advised to wear face coverings too to minimise the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19.

The new guidance, aimed mainly at secondary schools, which the Education Minister has described as ‘easy to follow’ was announced today and now means that the only spaces where staff and pupils can safely remove their facemasks is in the classroom.

The majority of councils already require secondary pupils and staff to wear masks in corridors and on most school transport with those rules extended to primary pupils too in some areas.

Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “It is vital that young people, parents, adults and the workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to ensure the educational environments are as safe as possible.

“We have been clear that we will keep every policy under review and will continue to follow scientific advice. The policy we are announcing today does just that”.

The new advice has been recommended by the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (Tag), which has been looking at the “possibility of wearing face coverings for older age groups in more circumstances, including on public and dedicated transport” and could “even include in the classroom on a risk assessed basis…. balancing benefits with harms to overall wellbeing of students.”

Tag is also looking at how feasible a mass asymptomatic testing programme in schools and colleges could be, the Welsh Government has said it is considering that approach.

Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “Face masks and coverings in communal areas could have serious consequences for Wales’ 2,500 deaf children, almost all of whom rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.
“Socialising in corridors, break time chats and playground games are all rites of passage, but deaf young people now risk missing out because they can’t understand what others are saying. They’re also more likely to experience loneliness, isolation and bullying.
“Public health is the priority, but schools and colleges must move quickly to introduce reasonable adjustments to help deaf young people during this difficult time.”

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Two day centres to close temporarily as a precaution

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TWO north Pembrokeshire Day facilities for older people and people with learning disabilities are to close temporarily as a precaution following the rise in coronavirus cases in Ceredigion.

Bro Preseli Day Centre in Crymych and Wintern Day Centre, Goodwick, are to close temporarily from tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24).

The decision to close each site will be reviewed regularly.

It is emphasised that there have been no positive cases of Covid-19 detected at either site and the temporary closures have been put in place as a precaution.

 

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