Russian special forces storm oil tanker, free ship

Russian forces rappelled onto a disabled oil tanker taken over by Somali pirates, freeing 23 sailors.

Updated: May 06, 2010, 13:13 PM IST

Moscow: Russian special forces rappelled onto a disabled oil tanker taken over by Somali pirates, freeing 23 Russian sailors and arresting the pirates during a dawn raid on Thursday, the commander of the EU Naval Force said.

The raid against 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 is carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil worth about USD 50 million.

The special forces had been aboard the Russian anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, which rushed to the scene after Wednesday`s attack. The special forces boarded a helicopter and rappelled down to the Moscow University, Rear Adm Jan Thornqvist, force commander of the EU Naval Force, said.

Shots were fired during the raid but no one was injured, Thornqvist said.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Col Alexei Kuznetsov said the pirates are being held aboard the tanker. Russian news agencies reported the death of one pirate during the raid, but Kuznetsov said that information was still being looked into.

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 in a statement that 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 kilometres) east of the Somali coast. The ship was not registered with the Maritime Security Centre, said Harbour. The ship`s route was from the Red Sea to China, the ship`s owner said.

Novoship is a subsidiary of Sovcomflot, which is owned by the Russian government.

Bureau Report