MOSCOW — The Russian military did not intend to kill Somali pirates who are believed to be dead after being set afloat at sea in a small boat about 10 days ago, a senior commander was quoted as saying Monday.
Navy captain Ildar Akhmerov confirmed earlier reports that the 10 captured pirates and their one dead comrade who had attempted to seize a Russian oil tanker were put to sea in a boat without any navigation equipment.
"We did not have the task of destroying the pirates during the operation to free the tanker. There was one main goal: to free the ship's crew," Akhmerov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
"Our military medics gave the necessary medical help to all of the wounded bandits. We loaded the dead bandit's body onto one of the pirates' boats with the rest of the pirates, and sent it to the nearest coast, towards Somalia."
"We loaded water, food and all their other things -- except the confiscated weapons, boarding ladders and navigation tools -- into the pirates' boat," he said.
"The further fate of the released pirates is not known to us."
Akhmerov, the commander of a group of warships in Russia's Pacific Fleet, made the comments aboard the Marshal Shaposhnikov, the destroyer that led the operation to free the captured tanker, Interfax reported.
Marines from the Marshal Shaposhnikov led the daring raid on May 6 to free the tanker, called the Moscow University, after it was seized by pirates from the lawless east African country of Somalia.
The operation was initially hailed as a huge success, but Russia was later embarrassed by reports that it had let the pirates go because of the unclear legal situation surrounding their possible prosecution.
Last week an unidentified senior Russian defence ministry source told state news agencies that the pirates' boat had failed to reach shore and that they were "evidently" dead.
The oil tanker's crew of 23 Russian citizens barricaded themselves in a secure cabin when the pirates attacked and were unharmed in the raid.
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