The stowaways had attempted to take over an Italian ship off the Kent coast, demanding the vessel be moved nearer the shore so they can swim to Britain. The crew of the Grande Tema, a 770-foot cargo ship on its way to the UK from Nigeria, found four stowaways on board this week and locked them in a cabin. But they broke out this morning armed with iron bars and brandished them at the crew who had fed and looked after them.

The crew quickly locked themselves on the ship’s bridge and sent out an alert to the coastguard in scenes reminiscent of 2013 blockbuster Captain Philips, in which Tom Hanks’s character is confronted by pirates at his vessel’s controls. British police were deployed out to sea in the hope of taking back control after receiving the signal. Now the operation has seized control of the ship, the political editor of The Sun newspaper said.

Essex Police said it had secured the vessel and detained four men under the Immigration Act, and no-one on board had been injured. The force said: ‘The vessel was boarded and secured shortly after 11pm on Friday December 21 and will now be brought safely into dock at the Port of Tilbury.’ It added: ‘It followed reports at around 9.15am (on Friday) of concerns for the safety of crew after a number of people were found on board.’ Four men have been detained under the Immigration Act after police boarded a cargo ship amid reports of stowaways threatening crew.

The force said the vessel, in the Thames Estuary, was boarded at around 11pm and will be brought to the Port of Tilbury to dock. The ship’s operator, Grimaldi Lines, said four stowaways had been found on board and were armed with iron tubes. They were calling on the crew to navigate closer to the coast. The force said the ship has been secured and no-one had been injured.

The crew of 27 Italian and Filipino personnel are holed up in the control tower, Paul Kyprianou, a spokesman for the ship’s operator, told MailOnline, as they await police. ‘They threatened the crew, they picked up what was around like iron tubing,’ he said. ‘They wanted to get closer to the shore so they could make their way to the UK. It is a quite a tense situation. ‘They were found on board four days ago and were locked in a cabin. The crew have been feeding them under international regulations. ‘They feared they might break free, which they now have. The crew are now waiting for the police to board the ship.’