“It was a pirate attack,” Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters, when asked what happened when the Arctic Sea was seized in the Baltic sea. If confirmed it would be the first such incident in European waters since the 17th century.
The hijackers – four Estonian, two Latvian and two Russian nationals – had been in control of the vessel since boarding it in Swedish waters on 24 July, Serdyukov said, according to Russian news agencies.
“The hijackers boarded the Arctic Sea, threatened the crew with weapons and demanded that their orders be followed. The Arctic Sea was heading to Africa with all of its communications and navigation equipment shut down, as ordered by the hijackers,” Serdyukov said.
The vessel was located yesterday by a Russian anti-submarine ship, the Ladny, 300 miles off the coast of the Cape Verde islands, following a joint operation involving Russia’s navy and air force, Serdyukov was quoted as saying by Interfax. The ship was intercepted by the Ladny, and the crew were freed without a shot being fired.
The Russian prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation into “kidnapping by an organised group”.
Latvia’s foreign ministry said it had no information about any of its nationals being involved.
The disappearance of the Arctic Sea as it carried a £1.1m cargo of timber on a planned route between Finland and Algeria left experts baffled. The day after it set off on its voyage, the ship was boarded by up to a dozen armed men as it sailed through the Baltic, according to an account later given by crew members to marine authorities in Malta, where it is registered.
Russian news agencies said today that the hijackers got aboard the ship after claiming their inflatable boat was in trouble.
The masked raiders bound, blindfolded and beat the crew before, initial reports said, departing in an inflatable boat 12 hours later, leaving the ship’s communications equipment damaged.
The Arctic Sea was known to have made contact with Dover coastguards on 28 July, but, at that point there had been no alert over the attack so there was no hunt for the ship.
British coastguards speculated later that the routine communication from the Arctic Sea could have been made either by the hijackers or a crew member speaking under duress.
Two days later, the ship was spotted in the Bay of Biscay, and its automatic tracking system recorded the position. From then on there was no further contact. The tracking system appeared either to have been switched off or to have stopped working from that day. It was due to make port in Algeria on 4 August, but seemingly changed direction, heading out into the western Atlantic.
Then, French officials reported the same day that a ship “resembling” the Arctic Sea had been spotted off the Cape Verde islands, west of Senegal, though there was no immediate confirmation.
The plot took a further twist at the weekend, with unsubstantiated reports that the ship’s Finnish owners, who have denied its cargo is anything other than timber, had received a ransom note for a “large sum”, reported to be almost £1m. But there was no confirmation whether this was genuine.
Given the ship’s valuable but commonplace official cargo, unsubstantiated suggestions have been made that the ship might have been hijacked because it was carrying a “secret” shipment, such as drugs or arms, unknown to its crew or owners.
August 9, 2009- Punta Arena anchorage, Guayaquil, Ecuador:
Robbers approached and boarded a launch carrying six ship’s (LPG tanker anchored) crew ashore. The 10 robbers wearing masks and armed with guns fired warning shots and boarded the boat. They stole crew personal belongings, cash, seaman’s book, extra gasoline, damaged communication equipment and escaped. Later, local fishermen assisted the crew and landed them ashore
Eight pirates armed with automatic guns in a 7-8 meter long, blue coloured wooden boat, approached a general cargo ship underway at 15-17 knots. They fired upon the ship and attempted to board her several times. Master raised alarm, increased speed, took evasive manoeuvres, and activated SSAS, contacted coalition warships. Pirates aborted the attempted attack due to the effective anti-piracy measures. A coalition helicopter arrived at the location at 1341 UTC..
Five robbers wearing masks armed with automatic guns in a speed boat boarded a refrigerated cargo ship at anchor. They opened fire and kidnapped five crew members and escaped. The remaining nine crew were not injured and they sailed the ship to open sea.
Ten heavily armed pirates in two boats fired upon a bulk carrier underway. The pirates failed to board the vessel due to evasive action taken by the master. All the crew and the ships properties are safe.
Five pirates on a boat armed with knives boarded a tug boat underway. All the crew mustered and managed to chase the pirates back into their boat. One crew slightly injured.
Heavily armed pirates in two speedboats, seven in each boat approached and opened fire on a bulk carrier at anchor. The vessel immediately heaved anchor and proceeded to open seas for safety reasons. One crew injured.
Robbers armed with knives boarded a bulk carrier at anchor. They tied up the watch keepers hands and stole ship’s stores and escape