Miss­ing ship mys­tery deepens

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

BRUS­SELS: The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion ex­pressed doubt yes­ter­day over whether a mer­chant ship which has been miss­ing for more than a week had fallen prey to pi­rates as the ves­sel’s op­er­a­tor had sug­gested.

Its re­marks added to the deep­en­ing mys­tery about the 4 000-ton Arc­tic Sea, whose dis­ap­pear­ance has baf­fled au­thor­i­ties across Europe and North Africa and prompted the Krem­lin to send Rus­sian war­ships to join the hunt.

“Ra­dio calls were ap­par­ently re­ceived from the ship which had sup­pos­edly been un­der at­tack twice, the first time off the Swedish coast then off the Por­tuguese coast,” Martin Sel­mayr, a spokesman for the Euro­pean Union’s ex­ec­u­tive arm, said.

“From in­for­ma­tion cur­rently avail­able it would seem that th­ese acts, such as they have been re­ported, have noth­ing in com­mon with tra­di­tional acts of piracy or armed rob­bery at sea.”

The Mal­tese-reg­is­tered ves­sel, car­ry­ing a cargo of tim­ber worth $1.3 mil­lion and a Rus­sian crew, was sup­posed to have docked in Be­jaia, Al­ge­ria on Au­gust 4. It never ar­rived and is thought to have last made con­tact from the At­lantic Ocean off the coast of France.

A wave of piracy has hit ship­ping off So­ma­lia, and an in­ter­na­tional naval force pa­trols its coast in an ef­fort to pro­tect mer­chant ves­sels. But a hi­jack­ing in Euro­pean wa­ters would be al­most un­prece­dented in mod­ern times.

Con­cerns over the safety of the 15-mem­ber crew were raised af­ter the Malta Mar­itime Au­thor­ity said it had re­ceived re­ports the ship had been boarded by armed masked men pos­ing as anti-drugs po­lice in Swedish wa­ters on July 24.

Rus­sia’s navy de­nied a re­port on state tele­vi­sion that the frigate Ladny was fol­low­ing a ship of a sim­i­lar de­scrip­tion in the At­lantic Ocean not far from Gi­bral­tar.

Rel­a­tives of the crew ap­pealed to Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Putin in an open let­ter and de­manded a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ves­sel’s dis­ap­pear­ance, Rus­sian me­dia re­ported, but have stopped speak­ing pub­licly about the case. – Reuters

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