Russia Arrests 8 Suspected Cargo Ship Hijackers
By Jonas Bernstein
18 August 2009

Undated file photo released 12 Aug 2009 by Maritime Bulletin Sovfracht shows the Arctic Sea cargo ship at an unknown location
Undated file photo released 12 Aug 2009 by Maritime Bulletin Sovfracht shows the Arctic Sea cargo ship at an unknown location
Russia says it has arrested eight people suspected of the mysterious hijacking of a cargo ship. The vessel disappeared after being boarded by hijackers off the coast of Sweden and then turned up off the coast of West Africa. There are still a number of questions about the incident.

Russian news agencies Tuesday quoted Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as telling President Dmitri Medvedev that the eight people arrested in connection with the hijacking of the cargo ship Arctic Sea include citizens of Russia, Estonia and Latvia.

Serdyukov also told the Russian president that the hijacking took place in Swedish territorial waters on July 24. The Maltese-registered cargo ship had left a port in Finland two days earlier and was carrying a shipment of timber bound for Algeria.

The Russian defense minister said four Estonians, two Latvians and two Russians had approached the cargo ship in a high-speed inflatable boat which they claimed was in trouble, and then boarded it, brandished arms and told its crew to follow their orders.

According to Serdyukov, the hijacked cargo ship then headed toward Africa with its navigation equipment turned off.

Earlier reports said the raiders had tied up the crew and searched the vessel but left it after 12 hours.  

Serdyukov said Monday that the ship and its crew had been found off the coast of Cape Verde and that its 15 crew members, all of them from Russia, were alive and had been transferred to a Russian naval vessel.

There has been much speculation about why the Arctic Sea, which was reportedly transporting a load of timber worth less than $2 million, was hijacked.

Some observers, including Russian political analyst Yulia Latynina, say that many elements surrounding the ship's disappearance, including initial speculation that it had been seized by pirates, do not add up.

Latynina says she believes the incident was neither a pirate attack nor involved ordinary cargo, but rather involved some kind of "highly illegal cargo." She says the cargo was possibly nuclear components or, more likely, weapons being sold to a Middle Eastern country.

Latynina says she thinks there was a disagreement between the various people involved, and does not rule out the involvement of "special services."

Police in Finland confirmed that a $1.5 million ransom demand for the ship's return had been issued. But Finnish authorities denied rumors in the press that the ship was carrying a secret cargo of nuclear material.