The Special Boat Service has a fearsome reputation amongst the world’s military community.
In part, this reputation has come about owing to their skill and tenacity when it comes to how they operate in challenging circumstances.
During my own time in the armed forces, I was lucky enough to see them in operation during an exercise that was conducted off of the English coast.
It is widely reported that it only took the SBS around seven minutes to secure the stowaways who had managed to hide onboard the 228-metre oil tanker.
Reports are that the stowaways turned aggressive and threatened the crew when the ship’s company tried to take charge of them.
When you consider the sheer volume of space on board this 75,000-tonne vessel, then you do not have to have any military experience to comprehend just how slick this operation was.
The fact that the SBS operators were able to secure the stowaways, free the crew and take control of the vessel in seven minutes is genuinely remarkable.
When the master of the vessel alerted the Maritime and Coastal Agency about the fact that the stowaways had compromised his vessel, an extremely well-rehearsed and classified set of protocols would have been started.
The security services, armed forces and emergency services practise for this sort of scenario more often than you might think.
Some sections of the mainstream media have commented about ‘how could the crew not have known that the stowaways were on board’?
I am fairly sure that such commentators have never set foot on a 75,000-tonne cargo ship, because if they had, then they would not need to ask such a question.
An exclusion zone was quickly set up around the vessel, ensuring that no other boats could have gone near to the ship.
Under The Cover Of Darkness…
The exclusion zone was undoubtedly policed by the Hants Police Marine unit who are used to working alongside their military colleagues during exercises. A tweet after the operation by @HantsPolMarine said simply: “Well that was an interesting one! Great effort by all of our team and partners tonight in some very big seas and challenging circumstances”.
Due to their close proximity to HMNB Portsmouth, it would not surprise me if the Ministry of Defence Police (Marine Unit) also raced to the scene.
All of the local shipping would have been closely monitored by the Maritime & Coastal Agency using their array of shipping radars which can track even small vessels as they navigate through the English Channel.
All the while, the special forces would have been kept-up-to-date with all of the latest intelligence being beamed into their control room, which can mobilise the worlds best special forces in a matter of only minutes.
The Royal Navy also quickly sprung into action with the Type 23 Frigate, HMS Richmond, providing additional support and resources to their military colleagues as they prepared for the operation.
The Royal Navy always has at least one warship in UK waters that is ready to mobilise with minimal notice.
And it was not long before, under cover of darkness, a small fleet of helicopters – understood to comprise of two merlin helicopters and two ‘Wildcat’ helicopters – flew out to the Nave Andromeda.
Within minutes of arriving ‘on task’, highly trained Special Boat Squadron operators fast-roped out of the two merlin helicopters and ascended the hull of the ship.
All the while, the Wildcats would have been providing air cover and real-time intel to their Special Boat Service colleagues.
Unless you have been out at sea at night, then it is impossible to give you an idea as to just how dangerous this operation would have been.
Ask anyone, myself included, who has served in the lifeboat service or the marine policing unit and they will probably tell you that the thought of ascending the hull of a supertanker during a dark autumn evening is enough to send shivers down their spine.
There are so many different factors at play which heighten the risk that these elite armed forces personnel were exposed to.
But the operation was a complete success. None of the ship’s company or SBS operators were injured.
And once again the general population of the UK gets a little insight into the remarkable world of the UK special forces.
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