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    Servicemen who freed Russian tanker to be nominated for awards (WRAPUP1)

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    All servicemen who took part in the successful operation to free a Russian tanker from pirates will be nominated for awards

    All servicemen who took part in the successful operation to free a Russian tanker from pirates will be nominated for awards.

    Russian commandos from the large anti-submarine warship Marshal Shaposhnikov accessed the tanker by helicopter, abseiled on board and freed the crewmembers who had locked themselves in a safe room after disabling the ship.

    "As a result of the operation, it can be said that the Pacific fleet demonstrated a high level of training and professionalism during the assault and when they freed the crew," a Navy source said.

    He said the competent actions of the tanker's captain and crew contributed to the success of the assault operation by preventing the pirates from taking hostages or sailing the ship into Somali waters.

    Russian commandos release hijacked tanker

    Russian commandos from Marshal Shaposhnikov released on Thursday a Russian tanker hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

    A high-ranking official from the maritime coalition forces said Navy forces made the decision to release the Moscow University tanker as they were aware the sailors had taken cover in an area inaccessible to the pirates on board the ship.

    "Around 3.00 a.m. Moscow time [23:00 GMT], the warship sailed out toward the tanker's location to assess the situation using technical equipment. Then the decision on conducting a special operation was made. During the operation, none of the Russians was injured," the official said adding the pirates had been detained.

    Russian tanker's assault operation

    According to the official, the commandos from the Marshal Shaposhnikov detained 10 pirates and killed one during the release of the tanker.

    "During the reconnaissance preceding the assault operation, the Russian commandos simultaneously used helicopters and speedboats while special forces covertly approached the tanker," the 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 [pirates] was shot during return fire," the military official said, adding none of the Russian sailors was injured.

    According to the ministry official, the pirates' weapons were seized, including large-caliber, grenade launchers and the equipment used to board the tanker (ladder and grappling hooks).

    Detained pirates to be sent to Moscow

    Later on Thursday, a Russian Investigative Committee spokesman said that all the detained pirates involved in hijacking the Moscow University tanker would be sent to Moscow for proceedings.

    "The investigation [committee] has begun measures to send the detained pirates to Moscow for investigations and launch proceedings under Russian law and international legal norms," Vladimir Markin said.

    Markin said some of the 10 detained pirates were injured. One pirate was killed during the assault operation.

    The incident with the Moscow University tanker has become the most notorious case after the Arctic Sea cargo vessel was hijacked after it sailed from Finland last summer. Russian Black Fleet sailors then freed the Arctic Sea.

    The Russian tanker's seizure

    The Moscow University tanker with 23 Russian crewmembers and 86,000 tons of oil was hijacked by Somali pirates on Wednesday around 8.00 a.m. Moscow time [04:00 GMT], when it was on its way from the Red Sea to China. The pirates attacked the Russian vessel 350 miles east of the Gulf of Aden.

    The captain of the tanker was able to get in touch with the Russian warship by phone and called for help.

    A Russian Pacific Fleet task force comprising the Marshal Shaposhnikov, the MB-37 salvage tug and the Pechenga tanker arrived in the Gulf of Aden on March 29 to join the anti-piracy mission in the pirate-infested region.

    The Marshal Shaposhnikov has two helicopters and an infantry unit on board.

    Shipping experts' opinion

    Shipping experts are divided on the reasons the Moscow University tanker followed the shortest but the most dangerous route.

    The Russian daily Gazeta quoted Maritime Bulletin magazine's editor-in-chief, Mikhail Voitenko, as saying he received a letter from an experienced captain who has sailed through the Gulf of Aden. Citing the unnamed captain's letter, Voitenko said only high-speed cargo vessels were able to pass through such a dangerous route.

    Voitenko told Gazeta the only reason why the Moscow University tanker chose the shortest way was a desire to save fuel. He did not elaborate whether it was the captain's decision of "not giving a damn" or the tanker's owner, Novorossiysk Shipping Company, that "went totally whacko" and decided to risk people's lives in order to save fuel.

    Gazeta quoted Voitenko as saying he did not believe the official statements by the Russian naval command and ship owners. According to him, the information announced earlier by EU NAVFOR Rear Admiral Jan Tornqvist that the tanker's sailors were able to barricade themselves in the radio room was far from the truth.

    The paper quoted Voitenko as saying it would be the truth only "if this was set up in advance."

    MOSCOW, May 6 (RIA Novosti)

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