Author:MARCO GIANNANGELI, DEFENCE EDITOR, EXCLUSIVE
THE daring rescue by Britain’s crack Special Boat Service was only the second time Special Forces have been used to rescue hostages in mainland Britain.
And last night the full details behind the operation, triggered after four iron bar-wielding immigrants took control of an Italian cargo ship on the Thames Estuary, were laid bare. Operation Renegade was launched shortly on Friday evening, more than eight hours after Essex Police were informed that the crew of an Italian cargo ship, Grande Terma, were being held hostage by four stowaways brandishing iron bars. The men, who are believed to have boarded the vessel 10 days before in Nigeria, had been discovered and detained in a locked room.
But they had managed to escape as the 15,000 tonne container ship, carrying car parts, approached Tilbury Docks in Essex.
They ordered the ship’s captain to sail closer to the shoreline, so they could jump and swim ashore.
As the drama unfolded and without any hope of resolution, they SBS were ordered to formulate a plan.
At the elite unit’s air station in Yeovilton., Somerset, four helicopters were scrambled – two Merlins and two Wildcats from 845 and 815 naval air squadron. They ferried 30 SBS soldiers to a forward mounting base at RAF Manston in Kent, were they awaited the “go order”.
Grande Tema could become ‘HOSTAGE’ situation says expert
By 12.30am, 18 SBS troops were rappelling -a fast abseiling technique – in darkness on to the vessel from one of the Merlin helicopters, while the second Merlin circled it. The Wildcat helicopters acted as escort.
Four men were apprehended and detained under the Immigration Act.
Paul Kyprianou at Grimaldi Group shipping line said: “We were asked to switch off the lights, then the Special Forces stormed aboard”.
The incident is only the second time that Special Forces have been deployed to rescue hostages on the British mainland.
In 1980 the SAS were watched by millions go televisions views around the world as they stormed the Iranian Embassy.
The operation, which ended a five-day siege and rescued 19 of out 20 hostages, was broadcast live under orders of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
However, both the SBS and the SAS have liberated hostages from Northern Ireland and foreign hotspots including Iraq, Syria and Sierra Leone.
In September 2000 members of a joint task force including SAS, SBS and the Parachute Regiment storm a defended camp to rescue six British soldiers being held hostage by the notorious West Side Boys in Sierra Leone.
In 2001 the SBS rescued a CIA officer caught top in a prison riot in Afghanistan. A member for he SBS was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour.
In 2005 the SAS returned to Sierra Leone to rescue 74-year-old peace activist Norman Kember.
Special Forces were held back from launching operations to free Margaret Hassan, an aid worker executed in Iraq, and Ken Bigley, an engineer who was beheaded after trying to escape from kidnappers near Baghdad.
A military source said elements of Special Forces are on permanent readiness to respond to this sort of incident in Britain.