Missing ship mystery deepens
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