Tanker seized by Somali pirates; Russian warship en route

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Somali pirates seized the Moscow University, an oil tanker bound for China, earlier today, prompting a Russian warship to be dispatched to the scene, reports say.

The hijacking occurred about 900 kilometres (560 miles) off the coast of Somalia, according to officials. The vessel's owner, Novoship, says the pirates, armed with automatic weapons, shot at the ship from two speed boats early in the day.

There were 23 Russian crew members aboard the tanker; all are said to have locked themselves in a secure room in the ship. The crew sent out distress calls to the Marshal Shaposhnikov warship before communications were cut off, Novoship said. A reporter with the BBC, however, commented that the warship probably would not intervene, as it may put the lives of the crew in danger.

The Associated Press reports that the ship contains 86,000 tons of crude oil, worth around US$50 million.

Pirates currently are holding over 350 hostages and twenty vessels in various locations around Somalia; international warships patrolling the Gulf of Aden have been unable to entirely halt the hijacking of ships.