A MAJOR incident is underway off the British coast after reports of an attempted hijacking of a ship.
A Coastguard helicopter has been circling the moored ship around four miles south east off the coast of the Isle of Wight in the English Channel this afternoon.
Seven stowaways are believed to have been found on the Liberian-flagged Nave Andromeda this morning.
Lawyers Tatham and Co, representing the vessel's owners, said it was "100% not a hijacking".
The 748ft vessel was bound for the Port of Southampton but was spotted zig-zagging in British waters.
Police are watching the ship from land while two Coastguard helicopters circle it from above.
The tanker is currently around four miles south east of the Isle of Wight.
It was last known to be docked in Lagos, Nigeria, on October 5, and was scheduled to arrive at Southampton at 10.30am today.
A Hampshire Police spokesman said: “We are aware and dealing with an ongoing incident on board a vessel which is situated south of the Isle of Wight.”
The Coastguard said: “We are currently assisting Hampshire Constabulary with an incident on board a vessel situated off the Isle of Wight.
“The search and rescue helicopters from Lee on Solent and Lydd are in attendance.”
A five nautical mile restriction zone has been placed around the ship, and a coastguard helicopter has circled it.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is being kept up to speed on the incident, Sky News reported.
Local MP Bob Seely said a Cobra meeting is about to happen.
He told Sky News: "The skipper has dropped anchor, either because he has been told to or because he is panicking.
"The relevant units will be looking at options as to what we can do."
Mr Seely said it was reported that the coastguard told the ship not to drop anchor before it did.
Members of the crew are reportedly hiding on the boat. The vessel gave a mayday alert at 9am this morning.
If the crew are sheltering, it will likely be in a safe room known as a citadel, designed to protect from piracy.
Citadels have food and water supplies, as well as communication services, first aid kits and CCTV cameras. They also have controls for switching off the engines.
The boat – which weighs 42,338 tonnes – is understood to have been taken over by a group of seven stowaways.
Marine traffic monitors showed the vessel zig-zagging off the Isle of Wight within a couple of hours today – an unusual course for such a large ship.
The Nave Andromeda is sailing under the flag of Liberia, and was built in 2011.
The Special Boat Service is located just a few miles away in Poole, Dorset.
In December 2018, SBS commandos took just five minutes to seize a ship hijacked by four migrants.
The African stowaways had threatened crew with iron bars on the Grande Tema in the English Channel.
But they meekly surrendered when black-clad SBS troops swooped down silently from a Merlin helicopter later that night.
A message went out to the elite fighters as they flew back after the “textbook” Operation Renegade mission declaring: “Pirates 0 – SBS 4.”
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