Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Russian warship freed a Russian oil tanker, hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Yemen, about 800 km from Somalia. The ship is carrying oil bought by China Unipec in Somalia worth 52 million dollars (40 million Euros) on route to the Chinese port of Ningbo and had 23 crewmen on board. Russian troops killed one of the attacker and captured another 10.
The tanker belonging to Novorossiyk Shipping Company, has a tonnage of 106,474 tons and carries 86 thousand tons of oil.
Commander John Harbour, spokesman for the European Naval Union, said the pirates attacked at dawn, with a motorboat that detached from the mother ship and automatic weapons. The ship managed to avoid them for several hours, while sending out distress signals. But in the end the pirates managed to board. It seems that there are no injuries. Before the communication breaks down, the ship managed to get a distress call out to the Russian anti-submarine warship Marshal Shaposhnikov.
Somali pirates are a problem along international trade routes between Europe, Africa and Asia. They board and hijack cargo and earn tens of millions of Euros in ransom money. To avoid them, tankers and cargo ships crossing the Indian Ocean off the coast, travel to the east. Some companies even prefer to return to the old routes by sailing around Africa to avoid the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aden, infested by pirates, through which about 7% of world oil production passes.
Several countries have sent warships to patrol the area in an attempt to maintain secure corridors. But it is difficult to intercept the pirates, because they sight their prey from a distance, do not approach if there are warships nearby and attack the heavy commercial vessels with small speedboats and men armed with automatic weapons, boarding and taking possession of the vessel.
Occasionally there are some success stories, as in February when the Danish special forces intervened after the pirates had boarded the ship Ariella and managed to catch them, while the crew was locked in a vault.
Official estimates speak of more than 300 hostages in the hands of pirates caught in the east African seas in recent months.