Somali Pirates Hijack Russian Oil Tanker

May 5, 2010 Updated: May 5, 2010

A Russian warship rushed to the scene after a Russian oil tanker was hijacked by Somali pirates in a “safe zone” near Yemen on Wednesday.

The warship had guided the tanker Moscow University to the safe zone, but 350 nautical miles from Yemen, the tanker, operated by state-controlled Novoship, was hijacked.

According to Russian media Novoship communications with the tanker ceased at 8 a.m. local time. It was carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil from Sudan to China. The captain at that time alerted military ships that two boats with gunmen had opened fire.

Admiral Jan Thornqvist from Navfor said to reporters in Kenya that the 23-member Russian crew had locked themselves in the radar room. The Marshal Shaposhnikov was expected to arrive late wednesday night, but their current situation remains uncertain. The pirates warned that a rescue attempt would endanger the crew.

Experts warned a intervention could be dangerous to the vessel and crew, and suggest negotiations and ransom payment, according to Russian media. The cargo within the 754-foot-long vessel is valued at $52 million.