MOSCOW — A Russian official claimed yesterday 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 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.
Russian officials have said one of the 11 pirates was killed during a gun battle when Russian special forces stormed the tanker on Thursday. The others were brought aboard a destroyer.
Officials initially said the men would be taken to Russia, but the Defense Ministry said Friday that they had 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.