Russian navy retakes oil tanker from Somali pirates
Published on Thursday, May. 06, 2010 7:57AM EDT
.Russian forces freed a hijacked Russian oil tanker and rescued its crew in a helicopter-backed operation on Thursday that killed a Somali pirate, authorities said.
Russian investigators said 10 captured pirates, who seized the China-bound MV Moscow University in the Gulf of Aden, will be brought to Moscow for prosecution.
They hijacked the tanker on Wednesday with its 23-member crew and a cargo of crude oil worth $52-million (U.S.). Its rescue will please the Kremlin, which has been seeking to revive Russia’s naval muscle far from its shores despite limited resources.
“Measures are being undertaken to bring the detained pirates to Moscow,” the Investigative Committee of the Prosector General’s office said on official site sledcomproc.ru.
The European Union’s naval force said the Russian warship Marshal Shaposhnikov had sent in a helicopter that returned fire after being shot at by pirates.
Eventually the pirates surrendered and a boarding team from the Marshal Shaposhnikov arrived on board the tanker, an EU naval statement said.
A spokeswoman for the tanker’s owner, Novorossiysk Shipping Company, said the crew survived the 20-hour siege by hiding in a safe room that was inaccessible to the hijackers.
The Russian Investigative Committee statement said that one pirate was in fact killed and that some of the 10 who were captured were injured.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the tanker would most likely continue on its planned voyage to China.
Somali pirates are still able to seize ships despite the presence of an international fleet of warships in the busy shipping lanes linking Europe with Asia. Shipowners and insurers have paid out tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.
Somalia lacks the legal infrastructure to support trials, and captured pirates are often released because of disagreements over which country should try them.
Kenya and the Seychelles have prosecuted dozens of pirates handed over by foreign navies, but have both said they would have difficulties coping with the numbers if every seized pirate was placed in their hands.
Last month, the UN Security Council suggested creating special piracy courts to plug a gap in the world response to the costly attacks on merchant ships off Somalia’s coast.
Russia has been sending warships to patrol and protect Russian crews and cargoes off the Horn of Africa since the hijacking of the Ukrainian-owned cargo ship MV Faina in 2008 and the death of its Russian captain. The Faina was carrying a cargo of 33 battle tanks and other weapons.
Two Russian fishing vessels were hijacked in the early 2000s off Somalia, but Wednesday’s attack was the first on a large Russian-owned merchant vessel, said Andrew Mwangura, who runs the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme.
Some oil tankers are sailing around southern Africa and further east into the Indian Ocean away from Somalia’s coastline to avoid the Gulf of Aden and pirates who are striking deeper out at sea, shipping experts say.