Seven men accused of hijacking an oil tanker near the Isle of Wight won't face prosecution

Seven men accused of hijacking an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight will face no action, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced. The decision leaves the seven Nigerians free to claim asylum and prompted an angry backlash from the Home Office, which said it was “disappointed” and “frustrated” and pledged to deport them. The Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was deployed to storm the Nave Andromeda on Oct 25 last year, when the crew claimed the ship had been taken over by violent stowaways. Two of the seven – Matthew Okorie, 25 and Sunday Sylvester, 22 – were charged with offences of endangering ships at sea, which carries a two year jail sentence. However, the CPS said the cases were being discontinued after new expert evidence emerged. Hampshire police had decided to take no action against the other five. A CPS spokesman said that although it had already charged the men, further material was supplied by a maritime expert “which significantly undermined whether there was a threat of danger".  He added: "Initial reports had indicated there was a real and imminent threat, but additional mobile phone footage and further expert analysis of the evidence cast doubt on whether the ship or the crew were put in danger. "As the evidence could not show that the ship or crew were threatened, the legal test for the offence of conduct endangering ships under S.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995 was no longer met. "On that basis, we concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction for this offence and discontinued the case." Nave Andromeda oil tanker Credit: Paul Grover/The Telegraph The men are currently being held in a Home Office removal centre or accommodation from where they can claim asylum in the UK. A Home Office spokesman said: "We are disappointed by this decision. It is frustrating that there will be no prosecution in relation to this very serious incident and the British people will struggle to understand how this can be the case. "The Home Office is working with the CPS urgently to resolve the issues raised by this case. The immigration cases will be dealt with as quickly as possible and removal action will be pursued against anyone who has no right to remain in the UK." A Home Office source added: “I can't understand how this decision has been made. The SBS descended down ropes from a helicopter to rescue a hijacked vessel. Now the CPS have decided that’s okay and off you go. I don’t understand what has happened.” The 748ft-long (228 meter) ship left Lagos in Nigeria on 5 October 2020, bound for Southampton. As it approached the Isle of Wight 20 days later, an emergency call came from the ship concerned about stowaways on board while the 22 crew members had locked themselves in the ship's citadel, a secure area. The men had been found on the ship earlier in the voyage but became hostile as the tanker approached the UK. At the time the Ministry of Defence called the incident a "suspected hijacking" and said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorised a special forces operation in response to the police request. A three-mile exclusion zone was put in place around the vessel. In a nine-minute operation carried out under the cover of darkness, SBS commandos boarded the vessel and arrested the seven men, believed to be Nigerian nationals seeking asylum in the UK. A team of Royal Navy divers was deployed in a helicopters in case the vessel had been mined, but it had not. The Liberian-registered tanker later docked in Southampton. Pat Adamson, spokesman for the shipping company, said: “They weren’t really hijackers, they were stowaways. We’re not excusing their behaviour in any way but we always said they were stowaways.”

Seven men accused of hijacking an oil tanker near the Isle of Wight won't face prosecution

Seven men accused of hijacking an oil tanker off the Isle of Wight will face no action, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced.

The decision leaves the seven Nigerians free to claim asylum and prompted an angry backlash from the Home Office, which said it was “disappointed” and “frustrated” and pledged to deport them.

The Special Boat Squadron (SBS) was deployed to storm the Nave Andromeda on Oct 25 last year, when the crew claimed the ship had been taken over by violent stowaways.

Two of the seven – Matthew Okorie, 25 and Sunday Sylvester, 22 – were charged with offences of endangering ships at sea, which carries a two year jail sentence.

However, the CPS said the cases were being discontinued after new expert evidence emerged. Hampshire police had decided to take no action against the other five.

A CPS spokesman said that although it had already charged the men, further material was supplied by a maritime expert “which significantly undermined whether there was a threat of danger". 

He added: "Initial reports had indicated there was a real and imminent threat, but additional mobile phone footage and further expert analysis of the evidence cast doubt on whether the ship or the crew were put in danger.

"As the evidence could not show that the ship or crew were threatened, the legal test for the offence of conduct endangering ships under S.58 Merchant Shipping Act 1995 was no longer met.

"On that basis, we concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of a conviction for this offence and discontinued the case."

Nave Andromeda oil tanker Credit: Paul Grover/The Telegraph

The men are currently being held in a Home Office removal centre or accommodation from where they can claim asylum in the UK.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are disappointed by this decision. It is frustrating that there will be no prosecution in relation to this very serious incident and the British people will struggle to understand how this can be the case.

"The Home Office is working with the CPS urgently to resolve the issues raised by this case. The immigration cases will be dealt with as quickly as possible and removal action will be pursued against anyone who has no right to remain in the UK."

A Home Office source added: “I can't understand how this decision has been made. The SBS descended down ropes from a helicopter to rescue a hijacked vessel. Now the CPS have decided that’s okay and off you go. I don’t understand what has happened.”

The 748ft-long (228 meter) ship left Lagos in Nigeria on 5 October 2020, bound for Southampton.

As it approached the Isle of Wight 20 days later, an emergency call came from the ship concerned about stowaways on board while the 22 crew members had locked themselves in the ship's citadel, a secure area.

The men had been found on the ship earlier in the voyage but became hostile as the tanker approached the UK.

At the time the Ministry of Defence called the incident a "suspected hijacking" and said Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel authorised a special forces operation in response to the police request. A three-mile exclusion zone was put in place around the vessel.

In a nine-minute operation carried out under the cover of darkness, SBS commandos boarded the vessel and arrested the seven men, believed to be Nigerian nationals seeking asylum in the UK.

A team of Royal Navy divers was deployed in a helicopters in case the vessel had been mined, but it had not. The Liberian-registered tanker later docked in Southampton.

Pat Adamson, spokesman for the shipping company, said: “They weren’t really hijackers, they were stowaways. We’re not excusing their behaviour in any way but we always said they were stowaways.”