Hijacked Margate boat owner describes moment SBS commandos abseiled onto container ship to seize four migrants threatening crew with metal bars

Hijacked Margate boat owner describes moment SBS commandos abseiled onto container ship to seize four migrants threatening crew with metal bars

Around 25 members from X Squadron of the Special Boat Service — sister regiment to the SAS — abseiled onto the ship yesterday evening.

The hijackers had battled for control of the Grande Tema which had been circling between the Kent seaside town and Clacton.

With the stand-off nearing its 12th hour, Theresa May sanctioned the crack commandos squad to storm the stricken ship which had sailed from Nigeria.

Paul Kyprianou, a spokesman for Italian shipping company Grimaldi Lines which owns the ship, said the men had been locked in a cabin but broke out as the ship reached the Thames Estuary.

They then threatened the ship’s 27 crew with iron bars and other makeshift weapons they picked up on board as the retreated to the bridge, where they locked themselves in.

“The only thing that happened is when the operation made by the special forces was going to take place, we were asked to switch off the lights, then they stormed aboard," Mr Kyprianou said.

“Last night at 11pm we had a special unit of the Special Boat Service – we had 12 men intervening and neutralising the stowaways.

“The operation was very fast, very quick and they were put in a cabin and they were locked.”

He explained that there was no physical contact between the two groups.

Though the company sometimes has to deal with stowaways, it's extremely rare that they act in this way, he said.

“What they want to do is reach Europe so this is their aim, so I don’t know if they knew they were in the UK, but they knew they were in Europe.”

The SBS troops were choppered in from Dorset to deal with the piracy threat

The Special Boat Service boarded at around 11pm on Friday and police later confirmed they had successfully managed to wrestle back control of the vessel.

Four men were detained under the Immigration Act and Essex Police said the ship would be brought to the Port of Tilbury to dock.

An Essex Police spokesman said: "The vessel was boarded and secured shortly after 11pm on Friday December 21 and will now be brought safely into dock at the Port of Tilbury."

It added: "It followed reports at around 9.15am (on Friday) of concerns for the safety of crew after a number of people were found on board."

Trouble flared early that morning when the migrants were discovered on the Italian vessel as it headed into the Thames Estuary aiming to dock at Tilbury, Essex.

Tracking of the 770ft (235m) ship showed it going round and round in the rough North Sea between Margate in Kent and Clacton in Essex.

Who are the SBS forces?

The Special Boat Service (SBS) is the special forces unit of the of the UK's Royal Navy.

The SBS was formed during World War Two when the Army Special Boat Section was formed in 1940.

Most of their operations are highly classified and are rarely commented on by the British Government or the Ministry of Defence.

They are described as the sister service to the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).

The SBS is traditionally manned mostly by Royal Marines Commandos.


The 71,543-ton Grande Tema is licenced to carry extremely hazardous cargo, which could be toxic, flammable or explosive.

Sources say this would form a very small part of the load.

It had been making a routine 4,400-mile, 11-day trip from Lagos, Nigeria. The stowaways are thought to have boarded there or during three stops on the West African coast.

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