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5 May, 2010 10:23

Pirates seize oil tanker with Russian crew

Pirates have seized an oil tanker with 23 Russians aboard, according to EU's anti-piracy mission "Atalanta". The vessel, sailing under a Liberian flag, was attacked some 800 kilometers east of the Somali coast.

Recent reports claim the tanker is now headed back to the coast of Somalia.

The tanker’s movements are being monitored via satellite every ten minutes, Itar–Tass news agency has quoted the press secretary of Novoship company, which owns the vessel, as saying. Among those captured there are two women, the agency reported.

According to Russia’s General Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Vladimir Markin, investigators have launched a criminal case on charges of piracy.

The seizure of the “Moscow University” vessel took place 350 nautical miles from the Yemeni island of Sokotra. The tanker was carrying almost 90,000 tonnes of oil to China.

According to information Novoship had received from the captain of the vessel before the connection was interrupted, two small vessels with armed pirates on board attempted to approach the ship. The pirates opened fire with automatic weapons.

While the pirates took control of the ship, its crew is believed to have barricaded itself in one of the lower compartments of the ship

Foreign ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov confirmed that the ship has been captured and said that the foreign ministry is “double-checking the details of the capture and the situation with Russian sailors”.

The Russian warship Marshal Shaposhnikov is now heading towards the captured vessel to assist its crew members. It is expected to reach the destination early Thursday morning.

However, piracy expert Mikhail Voytenko does not think it will try to free the ship by force, as the move would put the crew in danger.

“[The crew] is alive and well at the moment. However, they won’t be able to protect themselves from the pirates. The ship has been taken and they are a human shield of sorts,” Voitenko told Interfax.

He foresees that the events will take their usual turn, with the pirates taking the vessel to one of the Somalian ports.

Meanwhile the pirates have made their first statement since the hijacking of the ship.

“Any attempt to rescue the ship will certainly endanger the crew. The ship will be docked at Garacad,” a pirate called Abdi told Reuters, adding that it was too early to talk about a ransom.

Even modern armed forces cannot fight against this kind of threat,” said Dmitry Rogozin, Russian ambassador to NATO. “We want to create an international court which could convict sea pirates. It hasn’t been internationally approved, but there is likely no alternative.”