Friday, August 14, 2009
Russian ship with mystery cargo goes missing.
Secret cargo theory as hunt for missing vessel Arctic Sea goes on.
A missing ship feared hijacked by pirates in European waters two weeks ago may be carrying a secret cargo, it was claimed today.
The Arctic Sea and its 15-strong Russian crew were last heard from on 29 July, when they radioed British coastguards. A day later their position was tracked to northern France but the vessel has since disappeared, and some experts said it may have been hijacked by pirates in the Baltic Sea. Others have speculated that the 4,000-tonne vessel's disappearance may be linked to a dispute with the owners.
But Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of Russia's Sovfracht maritime bulletin, said the ship, originally thought to be carrying £1m-worth of timber from Finland to Algeria, may have been targeted because it was carrying an unknown cargo.
"The only sensible answer is that the vessel was loaded secretly with something we don't know anything about," he told the Russia Today news channel. "We have to remember that before loading in Finland the vessel stayed for two weeks in a shipyard in Kaliningrad. I'm sure it cannot be drugs or illegal criminal cargo. I think it is something much more expensive and dangerous."
The Arctic Sea made routine radio contact with British coastguards just before entering the strait of Dover from the North Sea at 1.52pm on July 28.
According to Interpol, it had been boarded by up to 10 armed men masquerading as anti-drugs police on July 24. The men were thought to have left the ship in a high-speed inflatable boat 12 hours later.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency called the situation "bizarre" and said the hijackers might have been coercing the ship's crew when they made radio contact.
The Arctic Sea failed to arrive in Bejaia, in northern Algeria, as scheduled on 4 August.
An international search, involving two nuclear submarines and five Russian warships, has been launched. "All ships and vessels of the Russian navy in the Atlantic have been dispatched to search for the missing ship," commander-in-chief Vladimir Vysotsky told Moscow's Itar-Tass news agency.
Mark Dickinson, the general secretary of seafarers' union Nautilus International, criticised authorities for their "relaxed" view of marine hijacking, which he said made shipping "the achilles heel of global security".
"It is alarming that, in the 21st century, a ship can apparently be commandeered by hijackers and sail through the world's busiest waterway with no alarm being raised and no naval vessel going to intercept it," he said.
Nikolay Karpenkov, the director of Solchart Arkhanglesk, the Arctic Sea's operating company, said the suggestion it had a secret cargo was "rubbish". "The craft was checked by customs officers as it left Kaliningrad after a refit and with the timber cargo in Finland and nothing out of the ordinary was found," he said.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 11:27 AM