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Citing flaws in law, Russia says pirates freed

Associated Press / May 8, 2010

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MOSCOW — The pirates captured by a Russian warship off the coast of Somalia have been released because of “imperfections’’ in international law, the Defense Ministry said yesterday, an assertion that sparked skepticism — and even suspicion the pirates might have been killed.

Authorities initially said the pirates would be brought to Russia to face criminal charges for hijacking a Russian oil tanker. But Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Alexei Kuznetsov said yesterday the pirates had been released.

Kuznetsov declined to elaborate on the purported legal flaws that prompted the release and it was unclear how the seizure of the tanker might be legally different from last year’s alleged hijacking of the Russian-crewed freighter Arctic Sea.

That vessel was reportedly seized by pirates in the Baltic Sea off Sweden and went missing for several days before a Russian warship tracked it down off West Africa. Eight suspected pirates were flown to Moscow to face eventual trial.

The Law of the Seas Convention, to which Russia is a signatory, says the courts of a country that seizes a pirated vessel on the high seas have the right to decide what penalties will be imposed.

“Why should we feed some pirates?’’ Kuznetsov asked. He did not give specifics of the pirates’ release, but the official news agency ITAR-Tass quoted a ministry source as saying they were “sent home,’’ unarmed and without navigational devices, in the small boats they had used to approach the tanker.