Inside ultra-secretive SBS whose elite frogmen seized tanker in just 7 mins in stowaways 'hijack'

THEY'RE the elite commandos who work best under the cover of darkness.

And last night, a crack squad of 16 Special Boat Service soldiers carried out a dramatic, textbook raid on an oil tanker off the coast of the Isle of Wight and seized seven dangerous stowaways.

It took just seven minutes for the heavily-armed frogmen to storm the 42,000-tonne tanker Nave Andromeda, detain the violent threats and safely secure all 22 crew members on board.

Some dropped down from Merlin helicopters hovering in the night sky, while others stealthily climbed on board from rigid inflatable boats using grappling irons.

Those on board the inflatables – lowered into the water by Chinook choppers – had been lurking in the English Channel for hours, waiting for night to fall and the green light to go ahead with their daring mission.

The secretive SBS are "happiest working in the dark", a source said – an attitude reflected in the unit's motto: "By strength and guile".

How yesterday's dramatic raid unfolded:

  • Reports emerged of a oil tanker being 'hijacked' off the Isle of Wight yesterday afternoon
  • The captain had sent a mayday signal at 10am after fearing for the lives of himself and his crew
  • Seven stowaways reportedly smashed glass on board and threatened to use flares as weapons
  • The tanker zig-zagged in the English Channel before dropping anchor
  • SBS commandos swooped on the tanker and seized the stowaways

Not much is known about how the SBS operates, but they been involved in some of the British armed forces's most hazardous missions.

Their headquarters are in Poole, Dorset, only a few miles from the scene of last night's tense mission.

The SBS is at the forefront of counter-terrorism efforts at sea, risking their lives to keep Brits safe.

They have been involved in most major conflicts since they were formed in 1940 during World War II, including the Korean War, Falklands War, War in Afghanistan, Iraq War and the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East.

Prince Harry is the Captain-General of the SBS.

Only around 250 men make up the SBS at any one time, divided into four squadrons.

Recruits are mostly made up of green beret Royal Marines, and they are experts in swimming, diving, parachuting, navigation, demolition and reconaissance.

Commandos use a variety of high-powered weapons, including Colt Canada and Heckler & Koch assault rifles, underwater and semi-automatic pistols and Sterling sub-machine guns.

The assault rifle used by the SBS is a Canadian-made Colt Canada C8A1, with 5.56mm rounds. The same weapon is also used by the SAS.

SBS commandos carry smoke, stun and regular grenades, as well as knives, ropes and extra magazine rounds.

Around 90 per cent of those who apply to join the SBS fail to pass the gruelling selection process.

Candidates are required to march up to 17 miles a day while carrying a rifle and 18kg weights for five days in a row.

That marathon effort is then followed up with an "endurance march" of 40 miles, carrying 25kg weights. The march must be completed within 20 hours.

Wannabe commandos also need to be adept at diving into water from a height, as well as completing a 500m swim wearing full combat gear.

They are then taken to the jungle in Belize and trained for another 14 weeks, including being subjected to simulated torture and deprived of food, water and sleep while white noise blares.

Last night's mission was carried out with similar ruthless efficiency as a similar operation 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.”

Special Boat Service: By Strength and Guile

The elite commandos of the SBS have fought in all major British conflicts around the world, including:

Palestine, 1945-48: SBS crews remove mines form British ships in the Haifa harbour

Korean War 1950-53: The SBS carries out sabotage missions along the coast of Korea, raiding ships from submarines and warships. North Korean and Chinese lines of supply and communications are damaged.

Indonesian Confrontation, 1963-66: The SBS carries out reconnaissance missions and raids in Kalimantan.

The Troubles, 1969-2007: The SBS is heavily involved in the conflict, including carrying out covert surveillance and an anti-gun running operation in 1975.

Falklands War, 1982: Reconnaissance missions are carried out by the SBS, and enemy troops are cleared from San Carlos Bay.

Gulf War, 1990-91: The SBS helps with search and destroy efforts on mobile scud missiles, sabotages Iraqi fibre optics cables used for communication and secures the British Embassy in Kuwait.

Sierra Leone, 2000: The SBS joins the SAS in a rescue mission deep in the jungle.

Afghanistan, 2001-14: The SBS fights against the Taleban, helping defeat an uprising of captured Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners.

Iraq, 2003-11: SBS crews secure beaches on the Al Faw Peninsula, and capture oil fields.

Source: National Army Museum

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