Russia says Arctic Sea hijackers demanded ransom, threatened to blow up ship
Russian authorities say the case of the missing cargo ship has a straightforward explanation, but many in Europe still speculate something else happened.
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Sweden took the report seriously when it received it on July 28, launching a full "suspected hijacking" investigation the next morning, says Linda Widmark, a spokesperson for Sweden's National Criminal Police. She says Swedish police spoke with the crew by radio at the time and that the crew told them that the men who had taken over the Arctic Sea used a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, or RHIB, of the kind often seen in spy and commando films. Though much of what the crew said at that time has been discounted, under the assumption that their captors were feeding them their lines, the Russian state news agency says a boat of that style was found on board the Arctic Sea.Skip to next paragraph
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She says that since the Russian warship Ladny found the crew and arrested the alleged hijackers, neither Finnish nor Swedish investigators have had access to them.
"We all would like to get in contact with the crew and the suspected hijackers," said Ms. Widmark.
Since the Arctic Sea went missing, there's been intense speculation as to who was really behind the commando-style takeover of the ship. There have been suggestions of secret cargo, possible nuclear smuggling, and "state interests," but few hard facts.
"Rumors of radioactive booty aboard missing ship," was an Agence France-Presse headline on Aug. 18. An Associated Press story from the same day, "Mystery deepens as Russia keeps silent on Arctic Sea," mentions a story from the Russian press that claimed "interested parties have agreed to keep silent about the circumstances of the ship's hijacking."
Widely published speculation – including this Monitor story – exists that prior work done on the Arctic Sea at the Russian port of Kaliningrad, a notorious hub for smuggling, provided the opportunity to hide secret cargo.
The Arctic Sea's Russian insurer, Renaissance Insurance, now reports that it received a $1.5 million ransom demand in early August. Not long after, Sweden, Finland, and Malta, came together in a Finnish-based police task force. According to both Swedish and Finnish police representatives, the task force's members are pursuing individual investigations, using the task force primarily as an information-exchange mechanism.
Monitor questions regarding possible nuclear issues were either dismissed or not commented upon. Calls to the Defense Ministry in Moscow were not returned.
Some news reports have claimed that the Arctic Sea was screened for radiation before it left Finland, but that's disputed by the laboratory director for Finland's Security Technology Laboratory, Haari Toivonen. The laboratory is part of STUK, the Finnish government's nuclear watchdog. "At no stage was any radiation measurement done."