Somali pirates armed with automatic weapons boarded an oil tanker with 23 Russian crew onboard Wednesday, and a Russian warship was rushing to intervene, a European Union Naval spokesman said.
Cmdr. John Harbour said pirates launched an attack on the Liberian-flagged ship, which is named the Moscow University, at dawn. He said the crew managed to evade the pirates for several hours while sending out distress calls. At one point the pirates, who attacked in a small speedboat, returned to their larger mothership before returning to attack again, he said.
The pirates are now onboard the 106,000 ton ship but it is unclear if they are in control of the ship or the 23 Russian crew. The ship is carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil.
A Russian warship is heading to the ship at full speed, said Harbour. He declined to say how long the warship would take to arrive or what action it might take, citing security.
The attack occurred about 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of the Somali coast. The ship was not registered with the Maritime Security Center, said Harbour. The ship's route was from the Red Sea to China, the ship's owner said.
The owner, Novoship, said in a statement that the captain sent a distress call to the Russian anti-submarine warship the Marshal Shaposhnikov before communications were severed. It said the pirates attacked using automatic weapons.
Novoship is a subsidiary of Sovcomflot, which is owned by the Russian government.
In February, Danish special forces prevented the hijacking of a ship after pirates had boarded the Ariella. Special forces from the Danish Absalon boarded the ship while the crew locked themselves in a secure room.
Pirates currently hold more than 300 hostages taken from ships attacked off East Africa in the last several months.
Associated Press reporter David Nowak in Moscow contributed to this report.