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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

MV Arctic Sea: Yet More Mystery as Report Says Ship Carried Super Secret Cargo

Secrets apparently not being what they used to be, a report has surfaced that the nominally timber carrying Finnish owned, Maltese registered, Russian manned MV Arctic Sea was not just an old, tired timber carrying ship, but a converted into something else to be a carrier of a very mysterious cargo installed in a Russian shipyard behind a bulkhead that had to be removed to make space for it. Or something.

NY Times and Reuters have the claims under the headline Hijackers Threatened to Blow Up Mystery Ship :
The official version of events was questioned by Yulia Latynina, a leading Russian opposition journalist and commentator.

"The Arctic Sea was carrying something, not timber and not from Finland, that necessitated some major work on the ship," she wrote in the Moscow Times newspaper on Wednesday.

During two weeks of repair works in the Russian port of Kaliningrad just before the voyage, the ship's bulkhead was dismantled so something very large could be loaded, she wrote.

"To put it plainly: The Arctic Sea was carrying some sort of anti-aircraft or nuclear contraption intended for a nice, peaceful country like Syria, and they were caught with it," she said.
Much as I want to apply Occam's razor to this issue, there are some compelling facts that could sustain a good conspiracy theory - such as the Russian navy being sent in some degree of force to find a ship in which, as near as I can tell, their legal interest ought to be hovering around zero. That the crew was Russian might make the Russian moves were undertaken under - as odd as it is to say about the Russians - "humanitarian" grounds. and, of course, once the pirates were found on the high seas instead of, say, Spanish waters, then the Russians had the legal right to take action. The current law probably most applicable to this "high seas" situation is UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, Part VII, :
Article 105. Seizure of a pirate ship or aircraft

On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.
Which, of course, points out how convenient it was that the putative pirates managed to have the ship sailed to clearly international waters where the Russians could act without incurring the wrath of sovereign states that lined the ship's path to where it was boarded.

Not that there is anything suspicious in that. Much.

Some experts note that it likely the alleged boarders are/were Russian mafia and that it is extremely unlikely we will ever be in a position to chat with them. And, there is always the possibility that they may attempt an escape, the sort of escape from which dead men tell no tales.

I have the feeling that this little ship will be making news for some time to come.

And I repeat my warnings about ships that can drop off the radar.

But, please, use the comment section to join in the fun of guessing what that bulkhead had to be moved for. First prize is free access to this blog for a year.

This site has compiled some guesses already.

To relive the exciting story of MV Arctic Sea, clicking on the label "MV Arctic Sea" ought to capture most of my posts on the topic.

UPDATE: Cargo suggestions: anti-aircraft missiles.
A raft of suggestions and more in the comments here. Not much nautical knowledge, though.

UPDATE2: More -uh- clarity from The Moscow Times with some interesting analysis:
The lumber’s value has been put at $1.8 million, a sum that hardly justifies an attack that would amount to the most blatant act of sea banditry in European waters in centuries.

Yet the official version of what transpired is fraught with inconsistencies, prompting observers to suggest that Russian authorities are trying to cover up a smuggling or trafficking operation.

When Swedish police first said the ship had been hijacked near the island of Gotland on July 24, they cited the crew as saying masked men had bound and beat them before fleeing in a high-speed boat.

Yet Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Monday that the same hijackers — four Estonians, two Latvians and two Russians — were found on the ship off West Africa and they surrendered without a shot being fired.

One possible explanation for this contradiction is a statement issued by the European Commission last Friday that said the ship had “supposedly” been attacked twice, the first time off the Swedish coast and then off the Portuguese coast.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, a commission spokesman refused to elaborate on the statement.
Also, Malta’s Maritime Authority acknowledged Tuesday that the ship “had never really disappeared,” seemingly confirming a claim by Moscow’s NATO representative Dmitry Rogozin that disinformation “was used intentionally in order not to hamper the military’s work.”

Speaking by telephone from Brussels, a NATO spokesman confirmed Wednesday that the Western alliance had used its tracking system to assist Moscow in finding the ship.

Yet Finnish police said Wednesday that contact with the Arctic Sea was in fact lost for some time. “We did not have full track of the ship for the whole time, but a while before the Russian operation took place we were following one that we strongly suspected to be it,” police spokesman Jan-Olof Nyholm said by telephone from Helsinki.
Of course, the best part, an indication the ship was acting "strangely in the waters off Sweden:
Further complicating the picture are Swedish media reports suggesting that the Arctic Sea was hiding a second, smaller vessel while sailing off Sweden’s east coast.

Data from an automatic vessel tracking system showed that the Arctic Sea’s crew constantly tried to hide one side of the ship from being visible to other ships in the vicinity, the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, citing a Swedish coast guard official, reported on its web site Wednesday.

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