Russian special forces storm oil tanker and free hostages

Sources:  Associated Press and Ria Novosti

Russian special forces rappelled onto a disabled oil tanker taken over by Somali pirates and freed 23 Russian sailors early Thursday, the commander of the EU Naval Force said. Ten pirates were arrested and one was killed.

The raid on the Liberian-flagged ship Moscow University came 24 hours after pirates had taken the ship over and the crew locked itself in a safe room. The vessel was carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil worth about $50 million.

The special forces had been aboard the Russian anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, which rushed to the scene after Wednesday’s seajacking. A helicopter was dispatched to investigate and was fired on by the pirates, EU Naval Force said. The Russian warship returned fire on the pirates, it said.

Special forces troops on the helicopter rappelled down to the Moscow University, Rear Adm. Jan Thornqvist, force commander of the EU Naval Force, told an Associated Press reporter aboard the warship Carlskrona, which on Thursday was 500 miles (800 kilometers) west of Thursday’s rescue and was sailing toward Somali waters.

Ten pirates were detained and one pirate was killed, the Russian state news agency ITAR-Tass cited Vladimir Markin as saying.

The crew of the Moscow University had previously told officials they believed the pirates were trying to enter the engine room, Thornqvist said. The ship had been disabled and was not moving. Safe rooms, where crews seek shelter, are typically stocked with food, water and communications equipment and have reinforced doors that can only be opened from the inside.

The ship’s owner, Novoship, said the decision to free the ship was made knowing “that the crew was under safe cover inaccessible to the pirates and that the lives and health of the sailors was not threatened by anything.”

Cmdr. John Harbour, a spokesman for the EU Naval Force, called the rescue “an excellent operation all around.” He said the EU Naval Force had been working at a tactical level with the Russians, and that EU Naval Force personnel talked to the Russian crew by VHF radio. He said the EU had offered support to the Russians.

The attack occurred about 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of the Somali coast as the Moscow University sailed from the Red Sea to China, the ship’s owner said. Novoship is a subsidiary of Sovcomflot, which is owned by the Russian government.

Commandos from the large anti-submarine warship Marshal Shaposhnikov freed the Moscow University tanker, hijacked on Wednesday, in an operation which lasted just 22 minutes.

“During the reconnaissance preceding the assault operation, the Russian commandos simultaneously used helicopters and speedboats while special forces covertly approached the tanker,” a military official said, adding that after a short shootout the pirates were detained and put under custodial guard in one of the tanker’s compartments.

“During the Shaposhnikov’s special operation, the pirates on board the Moscow University tanker opened fire using small arms. One of them was shot during return fire,” the official said. He also said no sailors were injured.

International military forces have been more aggressively combating piracy. EU Naval Force ships are disrupting pirate groups and destroying their ships at a much higher rate than in previous years. U.S. warships have fired back on pirates and destroyed their boats in several skirmishes in the last several weeks.

Still, pirates are holding more than 300 hostages taken from ships off East Africa in the last several months.

[No wonder, when the pirates are released after capture to go back and re-offend!]



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