ROME - British and US forces freed an Italian cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in a dramatic rescue yesterday after retrieving a message in a bottle tossed by hostages from a porthole alerting ships nearby that the crew was safely sealed inside an armored area.
All 23 crew members of the Montecristo cargo ship were brought to safety, the Italian Foreign Ministry said. The 11 pirates were taken into custody.
The crew - seven Italians, six Ukrainians, and 10 Indians - locked themselves inside an armored area of the vessel when the pirates boarded the ship Monday, Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said. Safe from the pirates’ threats, the crew continued to navigate the ship.
“The criminals managed to cut off all means of communication, but the ‘prisoners’ tossed a bottle with a message through a porthole explaining the situation,’’ La Russa told a news conference.
At that point, other ships in the area were aware that the Italian vessel had been boarded by pirates. But the message in the bottle gave an important signal that the crew of the Italian ship was out of harm’s way and that a rescue operation could be launched without risking injury.
“Rubber boats circled the Montecristo, while a helicopter hovered above. The pirates surrendered right away, some throwing their weapons in the sea, and were arrested,’’ he said.
One crew member suffered a light hand injury, La Russa said.
The pirates attacked the ship Monday 620 miles off Somalia, as the crew was hauling scrap iron to Vietnam on a journey that had begun Sept. 20 in Liverpool, England.
The father of one of the crew members, Pietro Raimondo, said Italian officials told him that his son was in good shape.
“We are happy. We are celebrating the liberation,’’ said Antonio Raimondo from Sardinia, according to the Italian news agency ANSA.
The operation was carried out by two navy ships - one British and one American.