Russia says freed pirates didn't reach land
MOSCOW—A Russian official claimed Tuesday that 10 pirates seized by Russian special forces aboard an oil tanker last week were quickly freed but then died on their way back to the Somali coast.
The unidentified high-ranking Defense Ministry official did not elaborate on how the pirates died, deepening a mystery that has prompted speculation the pirates were executed by commandos who had freed a Russian oil tanker seized in waters 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Somalia's coast.
The official told Russian news agencies the pirates' boat disappeared from Russian radar about an hour after their release.
"They could not reach the coast and, apparently, have all died," the official said.
The Defense Ministry could not be reached despite repeated phone calls Tuesday to the press office and the cell phones of spokesmen.
Russian officials have said one of the 11 pirates was killed during a gunbattle when the Russian special forces stormed the tanker on Thursday. The others, some said to have been wounded, were brought aboard a Russian destroyer.
Officials initially said they would be taken to Russia for trial, but the Defense Ministry said Friday they'd been released because of "imperfections" in international law. The statement was met with skepticism, especially in light of a comment made by the Russian president.
"We'll have to do what our forefathers did when they met the pirates" until the international community comes up with a legal way of prosecuting them, Dmitry Medvedev said on the day the ship was stormed.
The international community has had difficulty formulating an accepted policy for trying suspected pirates.
Somalia's ambassador to Russia, Mohammed Handule, told journalists that his government could not identify or locate the pirates. They were believed to be Somalis, but their nationality has never been confirmed.
He said they "will face trial if we find them alive."
The multimillion dollar business of pirate attacks has continued to climb despite the presence of about 35 international warships patrolling the waters off Somalia. The impoverished nation is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has not had a functioning government since 1991.
In two other piracy-related developments on Tuesday:
-- EU Naval Force Lt. Cmdr. Carl Sjostrand said pirates hijacked a Bulgarian chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia with 15 Bulgarian crew aboard. When it was taken over, the Pangea was in the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor, a region off East Africa that is patrolled by warships. Sjostrand said only 17 minutes elapsed between when the Pangea raised an alarm and when the pirates attacked.
-- The spokesman for the European Union's anti-piracy force, Cmdr. John Harbour, said pirates released a cargo vessel they had held for more than a month. Harbour said the pirates left the vessel early Tuesday, three days after they had received a ransom. The refrigerated cargo vessel is sailing north, he said.
Harbour said the crew of 23 Sri Lankans, one Filipino and one Syrian is safe and well. Somali pirates hijacked the Talca on March 23 about 120 miles (190 kilometers) off the coast of Oman.
Associated Press reporter Katharine Houreld on the EU Naval Force warship Carlskrona contributed to this report.