8 Aug 2009 22:21

Ship with Russian crew disappears in Atlantic

MOSCOW. Aug 8 (Interfax) - A Maltese-flagged Russian-operated cargo ship whose crew included Russians disappeared off Portugal's Atlantic coast on July 28, the editor of a maritime affairs website said on Saturday.

The dry cargo carrier Arctic Sea was en route to Gibraltar and then on to Bejaia, Algeria, said Mikhail Voitenko, editor of the Maritime Bulletin-Sovfracht website.

"It was due to arrive there on August 4 but since July 28 the vessel has literally been missing - there is no communication, and neither the owners of the ship nor the families [of crewmembers] nor Lloyd's have any information on its whereabouts. We've searched all AIS [automatic identification systems]. There's no trace of it anywhere. All services, including the navy, are looking for the ship," Voitenko said.

On June 24, people who claimed to be police stopped the Arctic Sea, whose crew included 15 Russians, in Swedish waters in the Baltic Sea. They had come up to the ship on a rubber dinghy, came aboard, tied up the crew, and searched the vessel for 12 hours.

When they left the ship, the Arctic Sea resumed its voyage.

The Swedish authorities are investigating the incident.

"The attack story is getting more mysterious all the time. The main question is why the attack only became known after a week. After all, some of the sailors were seriously hurt, as it transpired. What was it? What was being looked for on the ship and who were they? And the main point is - where is it?" Voitenko said.

The editor argued it would not be easy for a ship like that to disappear without a trace. It cannot, for example, sink without sending out a distress signal, he said.

"One doesn't want to panic, but, on the other hand, everyone, including the families, is looking for the ship. I've had requests for information today both from services and from families," Voitenko said.

"It remains a riddle why the ship was attacked. Apparently, there had been a tip-off, and someone believed there was something valuable on the ship that was being carried illegally," he said.

The operator of the Arctic Sea, which was built in 1991 and was initially named Okhotskoye, is Solchart Arkhangelsk, based in Arkhangelsk, Russia.

as rp