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Stereo  531/Stereo Hits 576

In fact the journalist who wrote the story was close to the truth because the project's actual vessel, the MV Nannell, was also laid up in Southampton at that time, being secretly refurbished for her new role. The Nannell's cover story was that she had been purchased by a scrap metal company, but had subsequently been found to need extensive repair work in order that a marine safety certificate could be issued.

It was not long before press reporters linked the Nannell to the proposed offshore station and it became imperative to relocate the ship before any official action was taken against her. A local newspaper in Southampton, the Evening Echo, broke the story on 1st February 1986 when it revealed that the Nannell was to be the home for the new offshore station Stereo 531. The DTI were quoted in the article as admitting that they knew of plans for another offshore station and that they were aware of the Nannell's possible involvement.

Another vessel adjacent to the Nannell in Southampton, the Silver Sea, also came under suspicion and was used by those involved with the offshore radio project to divert journalists and others expressing an interest away from their own ship.

Following publication of these press reports an attempt was made in mid-February 1986 to sail the Nannell from Southampton. After being delayed by engine trouble the Nannell eventually left port on 14th February giving her intended destination as Pasajes san Juan, near San Sebastian in northern Spain.  Once again the Silver Sea was used to divert attention from the Nannell. She had already been used to transport some items of equipment to Spain for the offshore radio project but when she also set sail two days after the Nannell she encountered storms and had to enter Brest. Here she was boarded and detained by the French authorities because she was reportedly carrying goods destined for the overthrow of the Sierra Leone government.

Meanwhile the Nannell, which had also suffered engine problems requiring a visit to Plymouth for repairs, eventually arrived in the northern Spanish port of Santander (where Radio Caroline’s Ross Revenge had been fitted out in the early 1980's) and here it was intended that transmitting, studio and broadcasting equipment would be installed.

In mid March 1986 reports appeared in the trade press that two stations would now be launched from the Nannell - Stereo Hits 576 (the real frequency which up until then had been a closely guarded secret, using the 'Stereo 531' name as a cover) and WSOL 801. The publication of this accurate information meant that the authorities were now aware of the real plans for the proposed stations.

The British DTI approached the Spanish authorities putting pressure on them to prevent any further work being carried out on the Nannell. When the Spanish Ministry of the Interior instructed that work should cease on the Nannell (on spurious grounds that she was registered in Honduras and therefore required a Honduran broadcast licence) the project's backers thought it prudent to move their vessel. On 31st March the Nannell left Santander, supposedly heading for Oran in Algeria, but in fact she quietly slipped into a small port in southern France where she remained undiscovered for some time.

The unexpected need to move port and the consequent setback in fitting out the Nannell added to the already long delays incurred on the project and some of the initial financial backing was lost as a direct result. A further consequence was that the DJs and engineering crew who had been assembled in Spain had to be paid off and sent home while new sources of financial backing were sought.

Surprisingly this was achieved by mid May 1986 and the Nannell (now re-registered in Greece) sailed back to Santander where further work was undertaken without hindrance from the Spanish authorities. An aerial mast and two transmitters were installed on board the vessel, but throughout the summer of 1986 the promised financial backing did not materialise and the whole project faltered amidst internal disagreements and arguments. Meanwhile the ship languished in Santander staffed only by a small caretaker crew, but with no further conversion work being undertaken.

The Nannell was forced to leave Santander in northern Spain rather hurriedly on 10th June 1989 after the Spanish authorities started showing an unusual amount of interest in the vessel, which by now had been re-named Mi Amigo.

It later became clear that the increased level of interest in the Nannell was, as with the Communicator in Lisbon, part of the preliminary investigations into the planned launch of new offshore stations which ultimately led to the Dutch/British raid on the Ross Revenge in August 1989.

On the voyage north to Blankenbergo off the Belgian coast the Nannell/Mi Amigo lost part of her newly erected aerial tower and one of the transmitters on board was also damaged. Reports circulating at this time suggested that some of the people formerly involved with Radio Mi Amigo now controlled the ship (hence her renaming) and plans were in hand to re-launch that station.

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