Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Has Piracy Spread to Europe's Waters? Update 5: Yes It Has

Russia Says It Holds Hijackers of Cargo Ship

The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday that the cargo ship Arctic Sea, which seemed to vanish without a trace off of Portugal last month, prompting fears of piracy in Europe, had been hijacked as it traversed the Baltic Sea. The crew of a Russian anti-submarine ship freed the Arctic Sea’s 15 Russian crew members 300 miles from the Cape Verde islands in the open Atlantic on Monday, arresting the eight hijackers without firing a shot, Anatoly E. Serdyukov, Russia’s defense minister, said on Tuesday, according to the Kremlin Web site. The hijackers were identified only by their nationalities: four Estonians, two Latvians and two Russians.

The Defense Ministry says the hijackers commandeered the 4,000-ton ship off the coast of Sweden and traveled through heavily monitored European waters to the open Atlantic without being detected, in what would appear to be an act of piracy practically unknown in modern Europe.

While clearing up some of the fog enveloping the affair, however, the Kremlin’s statement left a number of questions unanswered: Why would the supposed hijackers seize a small freighter carrying only about $2 million in timber? Were the hijackers actually seeking something of greater value, drugs, weapons or nuclear materials, perhaps? Why was it first reported that the hijackers had boarded the vessel in the Baltic Sea, bound and beaten the crew and then left as mysteriously as they had arrived?

“Russia Says It Holds Hijackers of Cargo Ship”, NY Times, 8/18/09.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, John Burnett, a maritime security consultant, said: " [It's] an extraordinary mystery, it's probably an unsolved mystery until the Russian government decides to let us in on the big secret. This is no piracy, and no common hijacking, it's nothing like we've seen in Somalia, you don't hijack a ship that is carrying $1.3m of timber, and a ship that isn't worth very much. If it was captured, I would use the word captured not hijacked, by some forces then it was done so for a reason, far beyond normal hijacking or piracy. The talk in the London maritime community is that it was carrying something dangerous or something very nasty. It could have been anything from a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) device, or pieces of something like that. It came from Kaliningrad, it could have had one object or several objects, and then been loaded with timber."

“Russia arrests ship 'hijackers'”, Al Jazeera, 8/18/09.



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I am a law enforcement professional with over 35 years experience in both sworn and civilian positions. I have service in 3 different countries in both the northern and southern hemispheres.

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