LONDON—British authorities detained seven stowaways on an oil tanker just a few miles from the English coast, after crew members called for help and locked themselves in the vessel’s safe room, according to the ship’s operator.

The 240-foot, Liberian-registered ship, called the Nave Andromeda and operated by Greek shipping company Navios Tankers Management, was en route from Lagos, Nigeria, to the Fawley oil refinery near Southampton, England.

Hampshire police said earlier in the day they had set up a maritime exclusion zone, with a 3-mile radius, around the vessel, warning other ships to stay clear. Police said they worked closely with both the U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Border Force, to “bring this incident to a safe conclusion.”

A person familiar with the matter said U.K. special forces were involved in the operation. Earlier Sunday, the coast guard said search and rescue helicopters were on the scene. The spokesman for the ship’s operator said after the incident the vessel was headed to port late Sunday.

The incident happened about 6 miles off the Isle of Wight, in the middle of a heavily trafficked body of water off England’s southern coast. Stowaways, piracy and hijacking of oil vessels and other ships have all become relatively common along many of the world’s busiest oil routes, including parts of the Arabian Sea, offshore West Africa and in the Strait of Malacca near Singapore.

Such a standoff, though, is extremely rare in the busy and heavily regulated waters of Northern Europe. The U.K. has stepped up maritime patrols in recent years as migrants and asylum seekers have taken to the high seas to make it from continental Europe to Britain.

The spokesman for the vessel’s operator said the stowaways boarded the vessel when the ship was in Lagos. As the ship approached Southampton, the captain notified the U.K. coast guard, and the stowaways issued threats against the crew when they realized the authorities had been informed, according to the spokesman.

The captain then ordered the crew to the ship’s citadel for their safety, the spokesman said. Many ships are fitted with such secure rooms, from which the crew can seek protection from pirates or hijackers, but also continue to control the ship.

Write to Benoit Faucon at

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