ABOARD THE CARLSKRONA – A Russian warship hunted down an oil tanker hijacked by Somali pirates and special forces rappelled on board Thursday, surprising the outlaws, who surrendered after a 22-minute gunbattle. Twenty-three Russian sailors were freed.

The dramatic Indian Ocean rescue came a day after pirates seized the tanker, which was heading toward China carrying $50 million worth of crude. One pirate was killed and 10 others were arrested, officials said.

The Russian destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov rushed to the scene following Wednesday’s seizure of the Liberian-flagged tanker, Moscow University.

After spotting the hijacked vessel early Thursday, the warship fired warning shots from its large-caliber machine gun, undeterred by the tanker’s flammable cargo of 86,000 tons of crude.

Oil tankers don’t even allow crew members to smoke on board because of the risk of fire, but the Russian navy decided to move in with weapons after determining the crew had taken refuge in a safe room.

“The Marshal Shaposhnikov came near the tanker and after establishing contact with the crew, who were taking cover in the machine area of the ship, opened warning fire from large-caliber machine guns and a 30mm artillery complex,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.