U.S. Navy SEALs have taken control of a commercial oil tanker that was seized earlier this month by three armed Libyan rebels, the Pentagon said Monday.
"No one was hurt tonight when U.S. forces, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriot governments, boarded and took control of the commercial tanker Morning Glory, a stateless vessel seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans," Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
The operation took place Sunday night in international waters in the Mediterranean off the coast of Cyprus.
The tanker, said to be flying a North Korea flag, is loaded with oil and thought to be owned by the Libyan government's National Oil Company. North Korea says it has nothing to do with the ship.
"The SEAL team embarked and operated from the guided missile destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG-80). USS Roosevelt provided helicopter support and served as a command and control and support platform for the other members of the force assigned to conduct the mission," the statement added.
The USS Roosevelt is deployed as part of the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group, the Pentagon said.
U.S. Navy SEALs were involved in a dramatic rescue of the Maersk Alabama in 2009, which was recently made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. SEAL snipers killed three Somali pirates and rescued the ship's captain, who was being held hostage, during the 2009 incident.
At the time, the world was facing a rash of piracy, most of it from Somali gunmen operating off the Horn of Africa.
The number of incidents in the region, however, has declined sharply as U.S. and allied ships have increased patrols in the area and shipping companies have adopted tactics, including hiring guards and using evasive maneuvers, that have deterred piracy.
"We've had dramatic decrease" in international piracy, said Pottengal Mukundan, a spokesman for the International Maritime Bureau.
The number of worldwide ship hijackings declined to 12 last year from 28 the year prior. There have been two hijackings so far this year.
Mukundun said his organization has no information on the Libyan incident and would only consider it an act of piracy if a group from outside the ship took it over.
The ship is at the center of a dispute between Libya's weak central government and rebel groups.
Libya's government has struggled to establish security in the wake of the overthrow of Moammar Ghadafi in 2011. Militias outside government control continue to exert control in parts of the country.
The Libyan government had earlier said the tanker was carrying oil loaded in defiance of the central government from a port in Sidra and had attempted to prevent it from leaving port.
"The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company," the Pentagon statement said. "The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained from the Libyan port of As-Sidra."
Contributing: Jim Michaels in Washington