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Russia arrests hijackers of missing Arctic Sea ship

Moscow says Russia's navy has liberated the mainly-Russian crew of the Arctic Sea, and seized eight suspected hijackers, after weeks spent searching for the mystery ship.

An image of the Arctic Sea vessel

The Arctic Sea was reportedly carrying timber

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyikov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that the hijackers included two Russians, two Latvians and four Estonians.

The announcement comes a day after the Russian navy secured the missing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean near the Cape Verde islands. The disappearance of the cargo ship had baffled maritime authorities for weeks.

Serdyukov said the Arctic Sea was hijacked in Swedish territorial waters in the Baltic Sea on July 24, a day after leaving a Finnish port. He added that the hijackers had approached the Arctic Sea in a dinghy, requesting assistance, then forced the 15-man crew of the Maltese-flagged, Russian-owned vessel to set a course for Africa and turn off all navigational and tracking equipment.

The incident has sparked speculation of foul play or even a secret cargo targeted by pirates or spies.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday that the 4,000-ton ship had been found and that the crew was safe after being taken aboard a navy anti-submarine ship, but gave no extra details.

Navy scoured the Atlantic

The Kremlin had ordered warships and submarines to scour the Atlantic for the Arctic Sea, whose last contact with its Finland-based operator was on August 1 off Portugal.

The Maltese-registered vessel, which was carrying a cargo of timber worth over one million euros ($1.4 million), was supposed to have docked on August 4 in the Algerian port of Bejaia but never arrived.

There were concerns for the crew after Maltese maritime officials said they had received reports that armed men wearing masks and posing as anti-drugs police had boarded the ship in Swedish waters on July 24.

They also said crew members had been assaulted, gagged and blindfolded, and some were seriously hurt.

Piracy in European waters would be almost unprecedented in modern times, though a wave of hijackings has plagued shipping off Somalia.

nw/dpa/Reuters/AFP
Editor: Trinity Hartman

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