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Maritime mystery of 'hijacked' freighter

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Maritime mystery of 'hijacked' freighter


The Russian navy has joined the hunt for a missing cargo ship which may have been pirated in European waters. Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of the Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea, which simply disappeared some time in the last three weeks. She was carrying a cargo of timber from Finland to Algeria with a 15-strong Russian crew. President Medvedev has now ordered ships from the Black Sea fleet to find her.

“You would normally associate piracy with an area that has a weak security structure and crushing poverty,” said Graeme Gibbon-Brooks from the Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service. “But, clearly that is not the case in the Baltic, so if the attack took place as it was reported then this is extremely unusual.” British coastguards say the Arctic Sea last made contact on July 28 in the Dover Strait, although some reports have her off northern France on July 30 and later off Portugal. Maltese officials claim she was boarded by armed men posing as police in Swedish waters in July 24. Stockholm denies any official involvement. “Technically-speaking, hijacking a vessel without leaving any trace in European waters is not a job for ordinary criminals,” said Mikhail Voitenko from Russia’s Sovfracht maritime bulletin. “Some more serious forces are behind this.” It is not thought likely the Arctic Sea was pirated for her million-euro cargo of wood. She may have been seized as a dry-run to test security responses, or she may become a so-called ‘phantom ship’, her identity constantly changing as she transports illegal cargoes around the world.

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