August 13, 2009 in Nation/World

Missing cargo vessel, crew last seen in European waters

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The Maltese-flagged cargo ship the Arctic Sea is seen Dec. 29 in Kotka, Finland.
(Full-size photo)

LONDON – First the ship reported it had been attacked in waters off Sweden. Then it sailed with no apparent problems through one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. And then it disappeared.

The Arctic Sea, a Maltese-flagged cargo ship, was supposed to make port in Algeria with its cargo of timber on Aug. 4. More than a week later, there’s no sign of the ship or its Russian crew.

Piracy has exploded off the coast of lawless Somalia – but could this be an almost unheard of case of sea banditry in European waters?

“If this is a criminal act, it appears to be following a new business model,” Marine intelligence expert Graeme Gibbon-Brooks told Sky News on Wednesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the country’s defense minister on Wednesday to take “all necessary measures” to find the missing cargo ship and, if necessary, to free its crew, the Kremlin said.

The mystery began on July 24, when the 15 crew members of the Arctic Sea said they were tied up and beaten by a group of up to 10 men who boarded the ship off the Swedish island of Oland.

Swedish police investigator Ingemar Isaksson said the crew then claimed that the men left the ship 12 hours later in a high-speed inflatable boat.

On July 28, the Arctic Sea made contact with British maritime authorities as it passed through the busy English Channel. The ship made a routine, mandatory report – saying who they were, where they were from, where they were going and what their cargo was.

Where the ship was next spotted is uncertain. Russian media reports say the last contact was on July 30 when the ship was in the Bay of Biscay, and that it was later spotted by a Portuguese patrol plane.

Experts are very concerned about the vessel and crew, but at the same time are wary of attributing the disappearance to armed bandits.

“There have been no attacks in European waters,” said Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau. “It’s not the kind of area where pirates would find it easy to operate.”

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