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British sailors on 'anti-piracy' mission to Somalia in former navy warship are arrested off Senegal just five days ...
Defender, which is no longer on the UK Ships Register, was built in Lowestoft in the mid-1970s for the Sultan of Oman's navy in the Gulf and decommissioned in 2002
Friday, June 14, 2013
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Four have-a-go-hero Brits sailing a converted warship to Africa on what they describe as an 'anti-piracy' mission have been arrested off Senegal.
Armed marine commandos boarded their decommissioned fast attack gun ship Defender, which has two fearsome-looking cannons, and took them into custody in Dakar.
The Senegalese authorities said the four - all ex-UK servicemen - were detained on suspicion of 'illegal activity'.
The group, led by former Royal Navy submariner Chris Enmarch, had already had the 127ft Defender impounded in the Canary Islands.
The Spanish were suspicious that the vessel was registered as a pleasure craft and confiscated their British flag and ordered them to remain in port in Tenerife.
But after five weeks on the island the crew gave the authorities the slip - only to be impounded a second time five days later.
The group are reported to be heading to the pirate-infested Gulf of Guinea where they planned to offer security to oil rigs.
They insist they are 'not mercenaries' and their boat has no working weapons or ammunition.
They left Cornwall on April 16 and before departing Mr Enmarch, from Penryn, said they were going on an anti-piracy mission.
He said they were heading to Senegal 'to discuss with the authorities the possible use of the Defender as a deterrent against illegal fishing boats.'
The crew, which also includes Andrew Bayliss from Saltash, Cornwall, first ran into trouble off Tenerife on April 23 when their ship blew a gasket.
They were forced to stop in the resort of Los Cristianos where they were boarded by Spanish Civil Guard officers who refused them permission to stay there.
The vessel was then escorted 50 miles to a berth in the island's Santa Cruz port by a Spanish navy warship.
Officials are understood to have been suspicious that the formidable looking vessel, which flies the British flag, was registered as a pleasure boat.
The Spanish ministry of defence said an inspection revealed 'irregularities in the paperwork of the boat and its crew, as well as deficiencies in safety equipment'.
Mr Enmarch, 53, who bought the boat in 2011, was fined 40,000 euros because its waste systems did not meet standards set for pleasure vessels.
The ship's British pendant was removed and it was placed under the custody of armed Civil Guards.
One report in Spain said the Defender was actually en route for Nigeria.
Mr Enmarch accused the Spanish authorities of making a 'fuss about nothing' and said the cannons on his boat were 'just for show and totally unusable'.
But in the early hours of May 31, while the guards were called away, the Defender set off with the fine allegedly outstanding and five days later it was intercepted off Senegal.
Colonel Abdou Thiam, spokesman for the Senegal Army, said the ship was being held in Dakar and four British former members of the armed forces had been arrested.
Sources identified Mr Enmarch and Mr Bayliss as two of the arrested men.
A second Army spokesman said the ship had been detained over suspected 'illegal activity' but refused to disclose further details.
The Foreign Office said: 'We are aware of the arrest of four British Nationals in Senegal. We stand ready to provide consular assistance.'
The 135 tons Defender, which is no longer on the UK Ships Register, was built in Lowestoft in the mid-1970s for the Sultan of Oman's navy in the Gulf and decommissioned in 2002.
After buying the ship in 2011 Mr Enmarch told the Maldon Chronicle newspaper: 'Defender's task will be to deter any pirates intent on boarding the many ships that pass the East African coastline.
'One look at her should be enough to send them looking for easier targets.
'She will be manned by handpicked ex-Royal Marine Commandos and run as a professional naval ship, obeying the rules of engagement.
'Our primary task will be to protect oil platforms which are towed close to the coast of East Africa, and a number of oil companies want to hire Defender to look after their interests.
'We are not mercenaries; this is strictly a business venture similar to other British private protection firms which operate in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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