An international search was under way Wednesday for a cargo ship that vanished after its crew reported they were hijacked -- at least briefly -- nearly two weeks ago.This is the best part:
The last known contact with the Arctic Sea was July 31. Mystery surrounds its movements and the fate of its crew.
The Russian-crewed Arctic Sea, carrying a 6,500-ton cargo of timber from Finland to Algeria, was last heard from on July 31, when crew members spoke to Swedish police.
Its crew has told authorities that eight to 12 masked people posing as drug enforcement officers had boarded the vessel and bound and beat its crew in the waters off Sweden on July 24, according to a statement from the Maltese Maritime Authority.
On Wednesday, Russia said naval vessels authorized to use force were searching for the Arctic Sea with the aid of "space-based" detection systems. The Maltese Maritime Authority said Wednesday that the ship appears to have headed into the Atlantic Ocean, but mystery surrounded the ship's movements and the fate of its crew.
Russia's Defense Ministry said on its Web site that the Black Sea Fleet patrol ship Ladny was heading the search operation and had passed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic.
The ship's crew said its troubles began about 3 a.m. July 24, when the masked group boarded and stayed on board for about 12 hours, according to Swedish police and the Maltese Maritime Authority. Watch an account of the crew's alleged ordeal »
According to witness accounts, the intruders restrained the 15-man crew and questioned them about drug trafficking before locking them in their quarters.
"During their stay onboard, the members of the crew were allegedly assaulted, tied, gagged and blindfolded and some of them were seriously injured," the maritime authority said in a written statement.
During the reported hijacking, the vessel's radar and satellite systems were off-line for two hours, during which time the ship was witnessed performing "extreme maneuvers," said Maria Lonegard, a spokeswoman for the Swedish police.
Three days later, on July 31, Swedish police reached the ship by phone and spoke with someone they believe to be the captain, Lonegard said. It was the last known communication with the vessel, which was believed to be off the coast of France then.
A spokesman for the Swedish Coast Guard said the last known hijacking of a vessel in Swedish waters occurred in the 16th century.
THE 16TH CENTURY?!!?!?! If it's true that pirates are now operating off the coast of Sweden and starting to attack ships in the Arctic Sea, I'm sure there will be a pretty large response from the navies of Europe and the problem will be quickly taken care of. I highly doubt this is what's going on though.
First off, the ship was only carrying about $2 million worth of timber, hired by a Finnish lumber company, crewed by Russians and flagged in Malta. Not good prospects for a big ransom, especially if the ship remains anywhere in European waters. If they can find the ship, I see Europe's navies carrying out a rescue attempt and it ending much along the lines of the US navy's encounter with the hijackers of the Maersk Alabama. I don't expect the owners to pay a ransom to these random pirates. Even if they did pay a ransom, where would the pirates go? It's not like they could easily take refuge in Portugal or Sweden or the Faroe Islands.
If the ship was hijacked by pirates, I doubt the pirate clan is anything larger than an isolated single cell operating from some random little island in the Arctic Sea. We'll keep you posted if anything important comes out of this.