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Incident On The High Seas : The MV Nisha

Dateline : 5:30 am Friday, 21 December, 2001 

With global tensions high following the September 11th attacks and the war in Afghanistan, UK intelligence services became concerned over a cargo ship approaching the English coast. A tip off was received that the ship, the MV Nisha, may be carrying 'terrorist material' along with its stated cargo of sugar. This, combined with the fact that the freighter's route from Mauritius was preceded by a stop at Djibouti, close to suspected Al-Qaeda havens of Somalia and Yemen, caused an unprecedented security operation to be launched.

A task force consisting of SBS and SAS operators, bomb disposal experts and anti-terrorist police officers was assembled at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset. A detailed plan was drawn up to deal with the threat from the MV Nisha. Not long after first light, the plan was put into operation.

At 5:30am, The Royal Navy Type 23 Frigate, HMS Sutherland, intercepted the MV Nisha off the Sussex coast, launching SBS/SAS teams in rigid-inflatable boats (RIBs), which headed across the choppy seas towards the 500ft vessel. Above them, an armada of helicopters swarmed around the cargo ship. Lynx Mk8 helicopters, carrying SBS/SAS snipers provided cover as 2 Chinooks from RAF 7 Squadron manouvered into position above the ships' superstructure. First one, then the other Chinook disgorged its cargo of black-clad SBS/SAS operators. Using well-practiced maritime counter terrorism techniques, the assault teams fast-roped down onto the MV Nisha, swiftly securing the bridge and radio room, whilst their colleagues in the RIBs scaled the ship's sides and took control of the rest of the vessel. The crew were taken completely by suprise and did not resist.

stills taken from news footage of the operation:

HMS Sutherland approaches the MV NishaHMS Sutherland approaches the MV Nisha
SBS swarm around the suspect freightersbs board the mv nisha

With the initial threat dealt with, Seaking helicopters brought in anti-terrorist police and bomb disposal officers. They performed an initial sweep of the MV Nisha but found nothing.

Once the ship was fully secured it was brought into port, where customs and anti-terrorism officers were able to perform an inch by inch search of the freighter. While nothing suspicious was found, the operation was seen by many as an indicator of the UK's vigilance and willingness to respond to potential terrorist events. It was also a rare glimpse of the SBS at work.

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