Pirate-captured tanker freed by Russian navy

The crew of a large Russian anti-submarine ship has freed an oil tanker seized by Somali pirates on Wednesday. All 23 Russian sailors from the hijacked vessel have escaped the incident unscathed.

As a result of the rescue efforts, 10 pirates have been captured and one killed. The rescue operation took 22 minutes.

"The large submarine-hunter ‘Marshal Shaposhnikov’ of Russia's Pacific Navy carried out an operation to free the ‘Moscow University’ tanker. It ended with an assault by marines; Russia regained control of the tanker and set free all 23 crewmembers; none of them was hurt. 10 pirates have been detained. Several pirates have been wounded and one has been killed," reported Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigations Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office.

According to Markin, all those detained will be brought to Moscow for questioning.

The arrested attackers will be dealt with in accordance with “naval law,” President Medvedev said while discussing the events with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

Medvedev also announced that Russia’s Foreign Ministry will work on an international initiative to create a legal framework for combating piracy, probably establishing an international court for such issues.

“What’s the problem here? We all know that it’s evil, but fail to agree on how to fight it. The result is the bad situation in terms of legal and political instruments,” the Russian president said. He added that without such an agreement seafaring nations will “have to deal with pirates the way our ancestors did.”

Somali pirates have attacked Russian tankers twice in the past two years, but the vessels managed to avoid capture.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, the total number of Somali pirate attacks in 2009 stands at 217, with 47 vessels hijacked and 867 crewmembers taken hostage. In 2008, 111 vessels were targeted by Somali pirates, resulting in 42 hijackings.

Whilst the number of 2009 incidents almost doubled, the number of successful hijackings was proportionately less.

However, the range of action by Somali pirates continues to expand, spreading from the Gulf of Aden and the southern part of the Red Sea to the coasts off Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, and even Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and Oman in the Arabian Sea.

The tanker Moscow University, with 23 crew members and 86,000 tonnes of oil on board, was seized on Wednesday morning to the east of Aden Bay. The boat was going from the Red Sea to China.

"Due to wise steps taken by the captain of the tanker and his crew, all 23 sailors hid in a special room inaccessible to the pirates. As a result, the pirates failed to take any crew members hostage," the vessel's owner, Novorossiysk Shipping Company (Novoship), told Interfax.

The Russian navy was aided by EU and NATO warships engaged in anti-pirate missions in the region.

Itar-Tass quotes the Operation Atalanta press-service as saying “an aircraft from patrol aviation of EU Navfor managed to contact the Moscow University crew several hours after the attack on the ship. This helped to confirm the crew was safe.”

According to a source in Russia’s Ministry of Defense, cited by Itar-Tass, the crew of the Marshal Shaposhnikov gave the pirates a chance to surrender. However, they were forced to storm the vessel.

As EU Navfor reports “The Marshal Shaposhnikov sent a helicopter to investigate upon arrival at the oil tanker Moscow University’s position. The helicopter was fired upon by the pirates holding the ship. The Russian warship, knowing the crew were locked down and safe, returned fire on the pirates.”

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