SPECIAL force commandos abseiled their way onto a cargo ship near Tilbury after stowaways turned pirates allegedly took over armed with iron bars.

The crew locked themselves on the bridge to avoid being attacked as the stowaways allegedly attempted to get the boat to come closer to the south Essex coast and swim to Britain.

Following what is believed to have been a more than 12 hour stand-off and hostage negotiation about 25 Special Boat Service personnel carried out a rescue mission and the boat was successfully brought into Tilbury docks.

The force was called at around 9.15am on Friday.

The vessel is the Grande Tema, a 71,000-tonne ship which set off from Lagos, Nigeria, on December 10.

Paul Kyprianou, a spokesman for Grimaldi Lines, the operator of the ship, told Sky News: “We found four stowaways on the vessel.

“The vessel was coming from Nigeria and was bound for Tilbury, and those four stowaways were in a cabin and they managed to escape from the cabin and started threatening the crew, requesting the master of the vessel navigate very close to the coast.

“That request was probably because they wanted to jump and reach the British coast.

“The crew reacted and they locked themselves in the bridge of the vessel to make themselves safe and we haven’t had any injuries.”

Mr Kyprianou continued: "It’s a small group but obviously you can understand it would be scary.

“The problem is the four people free on the deck threatening members and requesting them to get closer.”

Police managed to secure the vessel in the early hours of Saturday morning following a tense stand off.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “We have now secured a vessel in the Thames Estuary.

“The vessel was boarded and secured shortly after 11pm on Friday, and was brought safely into dock at the Port of Tilbury.

“Four men have been detained under the Immigration Act.

“No-one on board the vessel has been injured.”

The suspects will be questioned by a variety of authorities.