Russian marines on Thursday stormed an oil tanker seized by Somali pirates, killing one hijacker and capturing ten others in a helicopter-backed rescue operation at dawn.
The raid in the Gulf of Aden resulted in the rescue of all 23 crew members of the MV Moscow University twenty hours after pirates seized the Russian vessel some 500 miles off the Somali coast. The ten captured pirates will be brought to Moscow to stand trial.
The hijacked ship's captain, Yuri Tulchinsky, said he had been on his way to China with a cargo of oil worth £35 million when he saw two speed boats packed with armed pirates approaching. The pirates, armed with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, opened fire, he said.
Captain Tulchinsky described how he immediately took evasive action, locking himself and his crew inside the engine room before the pirates could take them hostage.
He said he was able to demobilise the ship's propulsion system and radio for help, raising a nearby Russian warship, The Marshal Shaposhnikov, which promptly set off in the hijacked tanker's direction.
On arrival, the warship dispatched a helicopter to assess the situation, but the pirates were quick to open fire and a gun battle ensued.
A group of helicopter-borne Russian marines then landed on the tanker's deck by scaling down ropes, said naval sources, while other marines approached by speed boat and boarded simultaneously.
"After a short fire fight, the pirates were neutralised" and then surrendered, said a top ranking naval source. The Russian navy reported it had captured ten pirates and killed one, sustaining no casualties itself.
Russia's foreign ministry said the tanker would most likely continue on its planned voyage to China.
The operation is likely to be seen as a vindication of the Kremlin's tough anti-piracy strategy. It has stationed warships in the region on a permanent and rotating basis since January of last year. It originally decided to send in the navy after a Ukrainian-owned cargo ship, the MV Faina, was hijacked in 2008, and its Russian captain killed.
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 pounds in ransoms.