August 18, 2009 in Nation/World

Ship’s crew healthy, but mystery persists

Few details emerge after vessel’s rescue
Jim Heintz Associated Press
 

MOSCOW – The high seas mystery over the freighter Arctic Sea was far from solved Monday after the Russian navy found the ship off West Africa, 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.

Since the Arctic Sea sailed from the Finnish port of Pietarsaari on July 21 with a $1.8 million cargo of timber, rumors and unconfirmed reports of misadventure have followed it.

On July 30, Swedish police said the ship’s owner had reported that the crew claimed the vessel was boarded by masked men on July 24 near the Swedish island of Gotland. The invaders reportedly tied up the crew, beat them, claimed they were looking for drugs, then sped off about 12 hours later in an inflatable craft.

By the time the Swedish report emerged, the ship had already passed through the English Channel, where it made its last known radio contact on July 28.

The Arctic Sea was scheduled to make port in Algeria on Aug. 4. But after it was late by more than a week, Medvedev ordered the defense ministry to use all necessary means to find the freighter.

Subsequently, a ship resembling the 320-foot Arctic Sea was rumored to have been seen in the Spanish port of San Sebastian, then in the area of Cape Verde. On Saturday, a Russian maritime expert said the ship’s tracking device had sprung to life off the coast of France, but France said the signals came from Russian warships.

With details still sparse, Viktor Matveyev, director of the ship’s operator Solchart, told the Associated Press, “We are all incredibly happy. Now the big work starts to find out what happened.”

Serdyukov said the crew and the ship were found about 5 p.m. EDT Sunday about 300 miles from the island nation of Cape Verde.

“The crew is alive, all are alive and healthy,” he said.

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