BRITISH special forces have re-taken a cargo ship hijacked by Nigerian migrants in a dramatic operation which saw them use ropes to rappel down from helicopters onto the deck.
Special Boat Service (SBS) operatives from Sabre Squadron stormed the vessel in the Thames Estuary last night after the crew made a distress call at around 9.15am on Friday, claiming four stowaways had threatened them with iron bars trying to make them steer the ship closer to the coast so they could jump off. The 27 crew members locked themselves on the bridge of the Grande Tema, a 700-foot cargo ship on its way from Nigeria to the UK, where they spent the day waiting to be rescued.
The crew, who are Italian and Filipino, had been feeding and looking after the migrants after finding them on board last week and had kept them in a locked cabin.
But things took a turn for the worse yesterday morning when the group broke out and suddently turned on those who had been caring for them.
Specail forces landed on the ship's deck at around 11pm before the ship was brought to the Port of Tilbury to dock shortly after 4.20am.
Essex Police said it had detained four men under the Immigration Act and secured the vessel. No one was injured in the operation which lasted around 25 minutes.
Grimaldi Lines, operator of the 71,000-tonne ship which set off from Lagos on December 10, said that four stowaways had armed themselves with iron tubes.
Paul Kyprianou, a spokesman for Grimaldi Lines, told Sky News on Friday morning: "We found four stowaways on the vessel.
"The vessel was coming from Nigeria and was bound to Tilbury, and those four stowaways were in the cabin, and today they managed to escape from the cabin and they started threatening the crew, requesting the master of the vessel navigating very close to the coast.