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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Navy Raid On Pirate Ship Yields 29 Suspects

The Defense Ministry said Wednesday that one of its warships, the Admiral Panteleyev, has captured a vessel with 29 suspected Somali pirates, the military's first success since stepping up its presence off Africa this week.

"We'll decide what to do with them soon," Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Vesti-24 television.

He said an initial investigation had found that among those detained were "Somali pirates, as well as Iranian and Pakistani fishermen."

The pirates were captured late Tuesday, a day after Russian-owned oil tanker the NS Commander radioed the Admiral Panteleyev for help in fending off an attempted hijacking. The tanker's Russian crew repelled the attack with water hoses and managed to escape the pirates without any injuries.

"A helicopter aboard the Panteleyev first noticed a pirate mother ship with two speedboats on board 15 miles [25 kilometers] from the Somali shore. An order was given to stop them," a Defense Ministry source told RIA-Novosti.

The helicopter fired warning shots from a heavy machine gun during the capture, the source said.

The capture, the Navy's second this year, raises what has become a thorny question for the international military coalition patrolling the seas off the lawless Horn of Africa: What to do with captured pirates. Another Russian warship, the Peter the Great, seized 10 Somali pirates on three boats in February and later turned them over to Yemen.

An unidentified Defense Ministry spokesman told Interfax that it was consulting with the Foreign and Justice ministries on what to do with the 29 prisoners.

"In any event, the matter will be decided through international channels," the spokesman said, adding that unlike the United States and Britain -- which have handed captured pirates over to Kenya -- Russia does not have a treaty allowing them to do so.

The RIA-Novosti source said the prisoners would be handed over to one of Somalia's neighbors but that a decision on which had not yet been made. Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991.

The Navy said Monday that four of its ships, including the Panteleyev, had arrived in the region to join the international pirate patrol.

Mikhail Voitenko, editor of online shipping portal Maritime Bulletin, said that under Russian law the captured pirates could be brought to Russia and tried but only if it could be proved that they attacked the Russian-owned ship. "If you count out a trial in Russia, there are two options," Voitenko wrote on his web site. "Either hand them over to one of the countries in the region (with their consent, of course) or seize their weapons and free them, which is the most common option."

He said he was not aware of any Russian agreements on pirate handovers with Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen or Puntland, a state in northeastern Somalia.

Serdyukov said the Navy would continue to patrol the Gulf of Aden with warships from other countries, including the United States and Britain. "Right now, a convoy is being formed of civilian ships that we will escort," he said.