A ransom demand has been reported for the merchant ship Arctic Sea, the target of a hunt by the Russian navy and other maritime authorities between northern Europe and north Africa.
The new clue to the Arctic Sea mystery was disclosed in Finland, but it may have raised more questions than it answered.
The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation reported the ship's owner,
the Russian-led Finnish company Solchart, has received a demand to pay
ransom for the vessel, which disappeared while carrying a cargo of
timber from Europe to Algeria. However, the Finnish investigators did
not say who asked for the ransom, or how much it was for, or when it
The Arctic Sea was reported to be near Cape Verde, islands
off the west coast of Africa, on Friday, but a report from Russia said
the ship's automatic identification system transmitted a brief message
Saturday indicating it is off the coast of France (in the Bay of Biscay).
French naval authorities said they are aware of that report, but that they believe the Arctic Sea is in the southern Atlantic Ocean, possibly still near Cape Verde or possibly heading toward Brazil.
Authorities in Malta, where the ship is registered, also are trying to
find the missing ship and its 15 Russian crew members. They say more
than 20 countries as well as the Interpol and Europol police agencies
are involved in the investigation.
The cargo ship's disappearance has sparked widespread news-media
attention, along with a host of theories about what happened, including
piracy, foul play and a secret cargo.
(Mikhail Boytenko,) an editor of the Russian maritime journal Sovfracht is quoted as saying the Arctic Sea
may have been carrying a secret cargo unknown to the ship's owners or
operators, in addition to its stated load of Norwegian lumber, worth
about $1.3 million.
Piracy at sea currently is a problem in several parts of the world,
especially in waters near parts of Africa, but a pirate attack in or
near European waters would be an extremely rare occurrence.
Russia has deployed warships to find the missing freighter, which
became an object of concern after it failed to arrive as scheduled in
the Algerian port of Bejaia August 4.