Armed police played out the dramatic seizure of a hijacked pleasure boat on the Thames in east London on Sunday, testing out their response to a Paris-style terrorist attack.
The first marine-based exercise of its kind appeared like a scene from a Bond movie as high speed craft rescued passengers on a stricken craft against a backdrop of The O2 and the Isle of Dogs and to the sound of gunfire.
More than 200 officers were involved along with 999 and river support services simulating London’s response to a terrorist hijack.
Commander BJ Harrington, from the Metropolitan Police, said: “This was the first time that we’ve tested together the response of the various agencies that operate on the River Thames to a potential terror attack.
“I’d like to stress that this scenario wasn’t based on any specific intelligence, but it’s important to remember that the threat level for international terrorism in the UK remains at Severe. This kind of exercise demonstrates that should a terrible event ever happen for real, London is ready to respond.”
In a recent independent terror assessment by Lord Harris , the Thames was identified as a potential weak spot, covered by multiple agencies and requiring a “stricter regime”. Key terrorist targets, including the Houses of Parliament and City Hall are all within yards of the river bank.
Cmdr Harrington said: “Of course, we have seen a number of incidents abroad in the past few years: Nice, Berlin – we have seen different methodologies developing, and, of course, the river runs right the way through London so why wouldn’t we prepare for that?”
The Met, the Port of London Authority , London Coastguard, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, London Ambulance Service and London Fire Brigade all took part.
In the simulation, armed officers boarded the moving City Cruises vessel in a hail of gunfire after a group of around five officers played gun-wielding terrorists took command of the boat and threatened hostages. One dummy “body” was cast overboard.
Cmdr Harrington said: “We are giving the people who are going to have to do this tricky and difficult and dangerous stuff the opportunity to have confidence that they can do it, and, above all, give confidence to people who live and work and visit London to say the police, the agencies, blue light agencies and other public service agencies, are in a really good position to protect them and keep them safe.
“I do hope there is a deterrent effect in this when they see how effective our people are.”
Counter Terrorism Specialist Firearms Officers (CTSFOs) were deployed during the exercise alongside the Met’s Marine Policing Unit and intercepted the vessel, boarding and securing it. Officers also used the opportunity to deploy marine-trained search dogs on board the vessel.
Cmdr Harrington said: “I’d like to thank the public and those using the river for their cooperation and understanding during this exercise. It has undoubtedly helped us to strengthen the working relationship between the other marine agencies that would be involved in dealing with this type of incident on the Thames.”
“Exercises such as this one show that London is prepared and should reassure anyone who lives, works or visits London that there is an amazing team of highly dedicated, professional and skilled men and women ready to keep them safe from this kind of threat.”