MS "Arctic Sea"

Written by  //  January 30, 2011  //  Terrorism  //  No comments

The mystery continues
Murky waters
(The Economist) A COURT in Russia’s far northern region of Arkhangelsk is hearing testimony from six men accused of hijacking the Arctic Sea, a cargo ship, in 2009, the bizarre disappearance of which prompted international speculation about a secret Russian arms sale to the Middle East gone awry.
The defendants, who face up to 15 years in jail on charges of kidnapping and piracy, have pleaded guilty, although five of them dispute details of the indictment. But the circumstances surrounding their case are so murky, and the official version so implausible, that their relatives are convinced they were duped into covering up something the Russian government wants to remain secret.
The Russian navy says the ship was carrying timber from Finland to Algeria when it was hijacked by six armed pirates, most of them unemployed ethnic Russians living in an impoverished neighbourhood of the Estonian capital, Tallinn. The disappearance triggered an international search on the high seas until Moscow claimed it had freed the ship’s crew after discovering the vessel off the west coast of Africa.

7 May 2010
Russia jails ‘pirate’ over Arctic Sea ship mystery
(BBC) Andrei Lunev, from the Estonian capital Tallinn, is the first to be sentenced over the incident last July. He was found guilty of piracy.
While the authorities will be pleased to see these men convicted, there are still many unanswered questions about the whole Arctic Sea affair, which became one of the great mysteries of last summer, the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow says.
He adds that a lawyer representing one of the accused told the BBC last September that his client said they had been set up: that they had not hijacked the ship, instead they had been rescued by it.
The journalist who first broke the story that the ship had gone missing fled Russia shortly afterwards, saying he had been warned to leave after suggesting it may have been carrying a secret consignment of weapons.
The crew and their families have also been under intense pressure to keep quiet, our correspondent says.
Also last September, a senior figure close to Israeli intelligence told the BBC that Israel had been linked to the interception of the Arctic Sea.
The source said Israel had told Moscow it knew the ship was secretly carrying a Russian air defence system for Iran. There has been no official confirmation of the report.
5 October 2009
Probing the Arctic Sea conspiracies
What really happened when the Arctic Sea cargo ship went missing amid allegations of hijacking and weapons smuggling? The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford went to Kaliningrad to find out.
24 September
This article supports the theory advanced in August by the Scandinavian diplomat (see below)
Was the cargo ship Arctic Sea really hijacked by pirates?
(The Guardian) It’s one of the biggest maritime puzzles since the Mary Celeste. In July a Russian-crewed cargo ship vanished off the coast of Finland. Moscow claims it was hijacked. Now one of the accused exclusively reveals a very different version of events . . .
It began as a curio item on an obscure maritime website and grew into the mystery of the summer. What exactly happened to the Arctic Sea, the enigmatic cargo ship allegedly seized by pirates, not off the wild coast of Somalia but in the genteel EU waters of the Baltic?
8 September 2009
Arctic Sea Iran arms link denied
(BBC) Russia has denied media reports that a cargo ship which was apparently hijacked in July was carrying Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports that the ship had illegal arms on board were “absolutely untrue”.
6 September
Missing channel pirate ship carried Russian arms for Iran
(Times Online) The Arctic Sea, officially carrying a cargo of timber worth £1.3m, disappeared en route from Finland to Algeria on July 24. It was recovered off west Africa on August 17 when eight alleged hijackers were arrested. The Kremlin has consistently denied that the vessel was carrying a secret cargo. It claims the ship was hijacked by criminals who demanded a £1m ransom.
The official version was challenged by sources in Tel Aviv and Moscow who claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 missiles, Russia’s most advanced anti-aircraft weapon, while undergoing repairs in the Russian port of Kaliningrad.
Mossad, which closely monitors arms supplies to Iran, is said to have tipped off the Russian government that the shipment had been sold by former military officers linked to the underworld.

This post defied any of our categories – ‘transportation’ hardly seemed to do it justice and, while it might have come under terrorism, that was not proven at the time when the story broke. So far we have not developed a category for ‘thriller’ or ‘material for a docudrama’, but the story begs for Frederick Forsyth treatment.

27 August
Story of “missing” ship getting curiouser still
Remember the missing cargo ship that had all of Europe in an uproar earlier this month? Turns out it may never have been missing after all:
President Medvedev sent the Russian Navy to find the Arctic Sea after it apparently disappeared while passing through the English Channel en route to Algeria from Finland. However, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow now says that Russian and international agencies had monitored the ship throughout its strange three-week voyage. “Of course, the dry cargo carrier with a displacement of more than 7,000 tonnes was never missing. Its movement was being followed and its co-ordinates were being reported from several sources, including our foreign partners,” the ministry said.
This might have been something they could have shared with the other half dozen navies searching for the vessel.
21 August
Suspected hijackers flown in military plane
The crew and suspected hijackers of the Arctic Sea – the cargo ship found by Russia’s navy off West Africa on Monday – have arrived in Moscow.
Members of the 15-strong Russian crew and eight suspected hijackers were transported in a military plane which landed at an airfield near the Russian capital.
19 August
Hijackers threatened to blow up mystery ship: reports
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The hijackers of a cargo ship that disappeared off the coast of France threatened to blow it up if their ransom demands were not met, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday.
Russia on Tuesday arrested eight people on suspicion of hijacking the Arctic Sea off the Swedish coast and sailing it to the Atlantic Ocean, ending weeks of silence about the fate of a ship which has intrigued European maritime authorities.
The limited information from Russian authorities has failed to satisfy skeptics who voiced doubts about whether the piracy actually took place or was a convenient cover story to conceal a possible secret cargo of arms or nuclear material.
17 August
Cargo ship’s discovery fails to solve mystery
(FT) Russia said it had found a merchant ship that went missing last month after being attacked in the Baltic Sea, ending an international hunt that had sparked speculation of piracy, secret cargoes and spies
Russia: Missing Ship Found Off Cape Verde, Crew OK
MOSCOW (AP) — The high seas mystery surrounding the disappearance of the freighter Arctic Sea ended Monday with the Russian navy’s discovery of the ship off the coast of West Africa, far from the chilly waters of Finland where it launched.
But a full cargo of questions remained.
Was the ship attacked near Sweden as reported? Was this an unheard-of case of piracy in European waters? Or a murky commercial dispute? Why was the Arctic Sea found off Cape Verde, some 2,000 miles from the Algerian port where it was supposed to dock two weeks ago?
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov informed President Dmitry Medvedev that the Russian-crewed freighter had been found safe about 300 miles from Cape Verde and that the 15 crew members were taken aboard another vessel for questioning.
The details stopped there.
(Bloomberg)  “We’ll release more details about what happened to the ship, how and why radio contact was lost, why it changed course and other nuances,” [Russian] Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters in Astrakhan today, adding that the boat had been located at 1 a.m. Moscow time. “The crew is alive and well.”
(YLE) The Russian Defense Minister said the crew was not under armed control when the ship was located some 480 kilometers away from Cape Verde.
According to YLE, investigators in Finland were also aware of the ship’s location for some time. However the information was not made public in order to protect the crew.
Officials across Europe were perplexed by the disappearance of the vessel. Speculation about what happened to the ship ranged from its being seized by pirates to being involved in a shady commercial dispute. On Saturday, Finnish investigators reported that the ship’s owners had received a ransom demand. However it was not clear who had issued the demand.
Crew Bruised and Battered
Earlier on Monday, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had confirmed that Swedish police possessed photos of assaulted crew members from the hijacked ship. The Daily Telegraph earlier reported that crew members had been photographed with bruises and missing teeth.

16 August
Finland denies missing ship carries nuclear material
(AFP) PRAIA — Finnish authorities dismissed talk Sunday that the Arctic Sea was bearing a cargo of nuclear material, as Russia and NATO joined forces in an international hunt for the missing vessel.
Jukka Laaksonen, head of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, said firefighters conducted radiation tests on the ship — last reported off Cape Verde — at a port in Finland before it began a voyage full of intrigue. But he dismissed as “stupid rumours” reports in British and Finnish newspapers that the ship could be carrying a “secret” nuclear cargo that could explain why it was attacked on the Baltic Sea before vanishing. “Some fireman for some reason thought that there might be some radioactivity involved in this shipment and that was a very stupid idea. There was no basis for that,” Laaksonen told AFP.
15 August
Missing ship ‘found’ off Africa
A missing merchant ship with 15 Russian crew members on board has been spotted off the coast of West Africa, unconfirmed reports say. The Arctic Sea had last been sighted in the Bay of Biscay on 30 July. Reports citing coastguards suggested it had been seen some 400 nautical miles north of the Cape Verde islands. However amid continuing uncertainty, the Russian envoy in Cape Verde said he had contacted the military there and the sighting had not been confirmed. Russian navy ships have been searching for the 4,000-tonne Maltese-flagged vessel, which had been carrying timber. Observers have suggested the ship was hijacked, possibly because of a Russian commercial dispute.
‘Ransom demand’ for missing ship
(BBC) Finnish police say a ransom demand has been made for a missing Russian-manned cargo vessel, the Arctic Sea. The demand – which has not been confirmed as genuine – was put to the ship’s Finnish owners, Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation said. A Finnish radio station said it had been told the 15 crew members’ lives would be at risk if it was not paid.
Mystery still surrounds a missing Russian-manned cargo ship, with a sighting off Africa’s Cape Verde islands still to be confirmed.
(Wikipedia) The MV Arctic Sea is a timber-carrying cargo ship that disappeared between late July and early August 2009. It is owned by the Malta-based company Arctic Sea Ltd. and is operated by Solchart Management AB of Helsinki, Finland. On July 24, 2009, it was allegedly boarded by a group of men wearing police uniforms off the coast of Sweden, between the islands of Öland and Gotland. They left after about twelve hours, having searched the ship, removed some items and assaulted a few crew members. The incident was not immediately reported, and the ship continued to sail towards its destination in Algeria. However all contact with the ship was lost between July 30 and 31, and it never arrived in Algeria. On August 14 the ship was reportedly located near Cape Verde, but remains missing. Finnish police stated on August 15 that a ransom, amounting to a “considerable amount”, has been demanded, but did not specify who is being extorted; the ship’s owners claim they have not received any ransom demand.
The comments that follow are from a Scandinavian diplomat, and were forwarded to us by a mutual friend. Chilling!

The following scenario is not necessarily entirely impossible:
First consider the facts:
MS Arctic Sea is a Russian owned and manned ship under Malta’s flag. The ownership has been intentionally muddled by multiple companies in various jurisdictions.
The Managing Director is a Russian residing in Helsinki and has been under surveillance for some years.
MS Arctic Sea had been for “refitting” in Kaliningrad, which is the center of illegal trade in arms and nuclear material.
Nobody hijacks a ship with a cargo of lumber in Swedish waters for ransom.
Russia sent already prior to the ‘ransom demand’ three (3) Men-of-War and one nuclear submarine after this cargo of lumber.
After the ship was located some 400 nautical miles from Cap Verde, someone sent her ID signal from the Bay of Biscayne!
French Naval Intelligence claims that the signal was sent by a ship belonging to a ‘foreign navy’.
The Russian Ambassador in Cap Verde vehemently denies that the Arctic Sea is near the islands.
According to a source close to the British MI the ship is 382 nautical miles from Cap Verde.
Now, consider this possibility:
The ship is transporting nuclear material sold illegally and unknown to the Government by Russian officials. Another competing gang or the FSB (which is more or less the same thing) tried to stop them or take over the stuff.
The Russian government is desperate to get to Cap Verde before anyone else to cover up. After that they will sort out the mess among themselves and heads will roll.

14 August
A mystery that could grace the pages of a thriller novel
A cargo ship carrying timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m) from Finland to Algeria is apparently briefly hijacked off the coast of Sweden before continuing its journey through the English Channel – and then disappears. Nothing has been heard from the Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea since its last recorded sighting on 30 July, and officials appear to have no idea where it could be.
If this event had occurred in the seas off east Africa, the finger would immediately have been pointed at Somalia’s notorious pirates. But the Arctic Sea disappeared while rounding the west coast of France, in what are considered to be the pirate-free shipping lanes of Europe.
13 August
All Flickr Members, International ALERT: Hunting for MS “Arctic Sea”
MS “Arctic Sea” was hijacked and disappeared couple of weeks ago. Interpol and the whole world is searching [for] this lost ship including Russian Navy with U-boats.
Russian President orders navy to hunt for missing ‘piracy’ ship Arctic Sea
Warships and nuclear submarines have have been told to “take all necessary measures to find and free” the ship and its 15-man Russian crew amid fears that it has been seized by pirates.
The mystery surrounding the Arctic Sea has deepened after further details emerged of the “missing” four days following a reported raid on the ship by armed men off the Swedish coast.
There was speculation that the ship had been seized by the Russian Mafia as part of a dispute over arms or weapons smuggling.
11 August
Swedish police investigate pirate mystery
(FT) Swedish police last night confirmed they were investigating a bizarre series of events in which a ship reported an alleged pirate attack off Sweden’s Baltic islands and then disappeared somewhere off western Europe.
The 15 Russian crew of the Arctic Sea, a Maltese-flagged general cargo ship heading from Jakobstad in Finland to Bejaia in Algeria, reported being tied up and beaten by 10 men who boarded the ship at about 3am on July 24 off the Swedish island of Gotland, according to Ylva Voxby, a press officer for Sweden’s national criminal police. The police were subsequently informed that the vessel’s Russian managers lost contact with the ship after it passed through the English Channel. The ship had been due to arrive in Bejaia on August 4. “It’s unusual,” Ms Voxby said, adding that the Swedish police had certainly not investigated a similar case in the past century. “The investigating officer had to look in the law book to see what heading to put to this alleged crime. The term he found was ‘hijacking’.”

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