Less than 24 hours after their hijacking off the Horn of Africa, the crew of a Russian tanker seized by Somali pirates were rescued Thursday in an early-morning raid by Russian commandos. The 23 crewmembers were unharmed after they locked themselves in a safe room. One pirate was killed and 10 others captured, said Russian officials.
On news of Wednesday's hijacking, the Russian Navy's anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov set a course for the tanker, the Liberian-flagged Moscow University. The destroyer sent out a reconnaissance helicopter which was fired on by the Somali pirates.
"The Russian warship, knowing the crew was locked down and safe, returned fire on the pirates," the European Anti-Piracy Naval Task Force told ABC News. Marines then rappelled onto the ship, re-taking it and arresting the pirates.
The Somalis are now being held aboard the destroyer, awaiting transfer to a still undetermined destination to face charges.
"Investigative measures concerning the pirates who seized the Russian tanker are continuing and are based on Russian and international law," an Investigative Committee spokesman told the Interfax news agency.
The Moscow University was 350 miles east of the Gulf of Aden, heading for China from Sudan with 86,000 tons of oil worth about $50 million, when men in two boats opened fire on the ship. The captain alerted the owners of his ship and military vessels in the area that they were under attack.
The crew locked themselves in the rudder compartment, according to the European Anti-Piracy Naval Taskforce, where they waited for help from the forces on the Marshal Shaposhnikov.
"Our naval mariners have done an excellent job. The oil tanker's crew was brilliantly prepared. The outcome was due to the training, organized by the ship's owner and the preparatory work done by the personnel," the Kremlin's envoy for international cooperation in combating terrorism told Interfax. "The crew were prepared to act in an emergency."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hailed the crew of the Marshal Shaposhnikov in an afternoon meeting with Russia's defense minister.
Rescuers to be Awarded
"Fine fellows, well done, I ask you to prepare awards for all our servicemen who played a hand in accurately, professionally and quickly freeing the tanker," Medvedev said.
Russians working on merchant ships had been taken hostage before, but this was the first time an entirely Russian crew had been taken hostage.
Medvedev called for the creation of an international database and court to fight piracy. "Until this happens we are going to have to act the way our ancestors acted when they ran into pirates," he said.