Moscow University: pirates walked the plank?

The pirates seized by a Russian warship off the coast of Somalia have been released because of ''imperfections'' in international law, the Defense Ministry said Friday, 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 allegedly was 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. The eight alleged pirates were flown to Moscow to face eventual trial. . The Arctic Sea, was suspected last year of transporting Russian missiles destined for Iran. Moscow has said it plans to fulfill a contract to supply the S-300 AA missile to Iran.
The release claim has sparked skepticism -- and even suspicion the pirates might have been murdered. ''If the pirates really were let go, it should have been done in the presence of journalists. If the pirates were killed, a heroic version would have to be thought up,'' Mikhail Voitenko said.

Authorities initially said the pirates would be brought to Russia to face criminal charges for hijacking a Russian oil tanker. But Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Alexei Kuznetsov told The Associated Press on Friday that the pirates had been released.

Kuznetsov declined to elaborate on the purported legal flaws that prompted the release and

Mikhail Voitenko, editor of the Russian online Marine Bulletin, said the release strained credulity and instead sparked suspicion the pirates had all been killed

''There is no more stupid version than the one that has been proposed to us -- that there was no sense in dealing with the pirates and that in Russia there are no suitable laws for convicting them,'' he wrote.

The pirates boarded the tanker Moscow University on Wednesday. They were arrested Thursday after special forces from a Russian warship stormed the tanker. A gunbattle ensued in which one pirate was killed; 10 others were arrested.

The warship opened with warning fire from large-caliber machine guns and a 30mm artillery complex, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

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