Baltics demand hijacking explanation

  • 2009-08-20
  • TBT Staff with excerpts from LETA/AFP and the MFA of Estonia

Mystery still surrounds the Arctic Sea disappearance

RIGA-  The Russian crew of the cargo ship "Arctic Sea", whose seizure bypirates sparked a major sea hunt, flew into Moscow along with theirsuspected hijackers today, as it emerged the skipper had beenthreatened at gunpoint.

A Russian Air Force "Ilyushin-76"transport aircraft landed at the Chkalovsky military airport outsideMoscow just before midday carrying the crew members, the "Interfax"news agency reported.

Earlier, another "Ilyushin-76"had arrived carrying the two Russian, four Estonian and two Latvianresidents suspecting of hijacking the ship. The planes were met byofficials from various Russian security forces.

The suspectedhijackers were taken out across the airport tarmac at running pace,handcuffed to members of the security forces who pushed their necksdown to conceal their faces from the cameras, Russian State Televisionpictures showed.

Officials have said the hijackers threatened toblow up the ship and members of the crew said that the "Arctic Sea's"captain had a gun pointed at his head after trying to sound the alertwhen the ship was boarded.

Fierce speculation has been ragingsince the 4,000-ton ship vanished after setting sail from Finland onJuly 23, bound for Algeria with a cargo of timber worth EUR 1.2 million.

Theship was attacked the following day in Swedish territorial waters bypirates, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has said, and afterthat had reportedly lost radio contact.

Malta's MaritimeAuthority (the vessel is registered in Malta) said the ship'swhereabouts had been known "for several days" before the Russianannouncement of its arrest.

Shipping experts have raisednumerous questions about the ship's disappearance, most notably overwhy it took Russia so long to confirm its recapture and whether itscargo was really timber or something more sinister.

But Moscow'sambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin hit out at the speculation, saying itwas perfectly logical for the Russian navy to have done everything fora crew consisting entirely of Russian citizens.

"Instead ofspeculating on the nature of the cargo carried by the "Arctic Sea" andthinking up all kinds of tales, everyone needs to draw importantlessons from this story," he said, according to "Interfax". "And thatincludes European officials."

Russia had also confirmed the day earlier that the hijackers had threatened to blow up the ship if a ransom was not paid.

"Crewmembers confirmed that the pirates had demanded a ransom and that ifthis demand was not met they would blow up the ship," said a RussianDefense Ministry official.

As reported, Latvia has requestedinformation from Russia regarding the Russian Defense Ministry'sannouncement that Latvian citizens were among the hijackers of the"Arctic Sea".

In the meantime, Estonian Foreign Minister UrmasPaet has confirmed that, judging from the initial reports, there werecitizens of Estonia among the persons arrested for hijacking the"Arctic Sea".

Estonia's "PM Online" reported that four of thedetainees were non-Estonian citizens of Estonia and another two werecitizens of Russia who had Estonian residence permits.

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On August 18, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairshanded over a note to the Embassy of Russian Federation in Tallinn. In the note Estonia demands an explanation regarding thecircumstances connected to the cargo vessel ArcticSeaand wants to get conformation about the allegations that Estonian citizens wereamong the people who have been detained.