What really happened on board the Nave Andromeda – podcast

Today in Focus Series

Journalist Samira Shackle on the curious case of an oil tanker and stowaways in the Channel and what it revealed about UK immigration laws

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In the summer of 2020, the number of people crossing the Channel rapidly increased. More than 2,000 attempted the journey in small boats and dinghies, compared with 500 in the same period in 2019. Politicians and the media seized on these crossings, not necessarily as a humanitarian crisis, but as evidence of Britain’s failure to protect its borders.

On the morning of 25 October that year, a ship entered British waters and made a call to land that would inflame the situation even further. Journalist and author Samira Shackle tells Nosheen Iqbal that the captain of the Nave Andromeda, a crude oil tanker, sent out a distress call to the British coastguard saying he needed immediate assistance because stowaways onboard had broken out of the cabin where they had been locked. By around lunchtime, a story had broken in the local media, and a radio station reported it as an attempted hijacking.

By mid afternoon, coastguard helicopters were circling over the ship, and by about 7pm, there was a full-scale military operation. Suddenly, a story that should have been about the asylum claims of seven desperate stowaways had been recast as a national security incident. Behind the political posturing and the media commotion, however, there remained seven men looking for a new start in life.

Liberia-flagged oil tanker Nave Andromeda at Southampton Docks, following a security incident aboard the ship the night before off the coast of Isle of Wight, in Southampton, Britain, 26 Octobe 2020. Reuters/Henry Nicholls

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