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Russia's Ghost Ship Reemerges

Russia's Ghost Ship Reemerges

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Published by: joe on Aug 21, 2009
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05/11/2014

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BRAD MACDONALDCOLUMNIST
Russia’s Ghost Ship Reemerges
August 20, 2009 | From theTrumpet.com
The missing freighter has been located, but we’re still searching for the truth.
 
T
he
Trumpet 
is not in the business of subscribing to, nor proliferating, conspiracy theories. In ourcraft, facts are friends. In general, we rely on hard evidence to reveal the truth about events andtrends, and the details about how they happened, or are happening.Sometimes, however, facts are used to discern the truth about what
did not 
happen.The recent “disappearance” and “reemergence” of the Arctic Sea, a Russian-manned and -operatedcargo ship, is a case in point. While facts shedding light on what exactly unfolded on board thefreighter during its 15-day “disappearance” are scant, the evidence we do have informs of what thisevent was not.This more than likely was
NOT
a mundane act of piracy.The saga began July 24, when the Russian-operated freighter was hijacked on the Baltic Sea by up to10 masked men masquerading as Swedish police searching for drugs. The invaders interrogated and insome cases beat the 15-man Russian crew, searched the vessel with a fine-tooth comb, and then,according to initial reports, fled on an inflatable dingy.Here’s where the story grows strange.It’s believed not until July 27,
a full three days later,
was the ship’s operator, Solchart, a Finnish company run by three Russian businessmen, informed of the hijacking. “The vessel had all thenecessary modern means of communication and emergency alarms, and was located in waters whereordinary mobile telephones work,” notedMikhail Voitenko, editor of the respected Russian maritime journal
Sovfracht 
. “To hijack the vessel so that no one makes a peep—can you imagine how that couldbe? I can’t.” Two days later, Swedish police broke the story of the alleged hijacking, which took place near theSwedish island of Gotland. One day later, on July 30, the Automatic Identification System on thefreighter—which by this time had successfully passed through the English Channel—went silent, andthe 4,000-ton vessel became a ghost ship.By now, news organizations the world over began running stories on Russia’s missing cargo ship. Themedia was curious. People were growing concerned.
 
Everyone, that is, except the vessel’s Russian operators.Despite mounting anxieties over the mysterious disappearance of the Russian-manned, Russian-operated freighter, the ship was not reported missing until
 August 4,
when it failed to deliver its cargoto Bejaia, Algeria. Even then, the Kremlin remained strangely nonchalant.It wasn’t until eight days later, on August 12, that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, under pressurefrom family members of the crew, suddenly ordered the Russian Navy to take “all necessarymeasures” to locate the ship. The Kremlin’s urgency, manifested in Russian frigates and nuclearsubmarines searching the Atlantic, quickly bore fruit. By last weekend the Arctic Sea was locatedabout 300 miles off Cape Verde, in the Atlantic Ocean. By Monday, the freighter had been retaken bythe Russian Navy, and the eight hijackers—comprised off four Estonians, two Latvians and twoRussians—had been taken into custody.Despite the happy ending, Russia’s bizarre ghost ship saga is far from over.Many experts agree that the facts suggest this was not a routine act of piracy. First, acts of piracy areextremely rare in European waters, particularly the bustling sea lanes north of the Continent.AsReuters noted, “[A] hijacking in European waters would be almost unprecedented in modern times.” Second, if this were an act of piracy, why would pirates take a vessel with so little booty? The ArcticSea held a mere $1.3 million in timber. Countless other ships traversing the high seas had tens of millions of dollars’ worth of freight. Third, if this was a random act of piracy and Russia truly wassurprised, why didn’t the Kremlin react more swiftly? Its sloth-like reaction to the news of thehijacking and disappearance indicates it had some intelligence about what was going on.The likely elimination of piracy as a legitimate explanation for the Arctic Sea’s disappearance addssignificantly to our understanding of this recent chain of events. With the simplest and most welcomeexplanation eliminated, we are left to contemplate other more disturbing explanations. “I think there was probably some sort of secret cargo on this vessel, not criminal but secret, and athird party of some sort did not want the cargo to get to another party so this highly sophisticatedoperation was cooked up,” stated Mikhail Voitenko. “I don’t think that it was pirates who took this vessel,
but it really smells of some sort of state involvement 
. This is real cloak-and-dagger stuff, like a[John] le Carre novel” (emphasis mine throughout).Russian political analyst Yulia Latyninaagrees, saying that the ship may have been carrying “highlyillegal cargo.” Another intriguing point raised by Latynina, writing in the 
Wednesday,pertains to the possible reason why the Arctic Sea underwent a major remodel in the Russian enclaveof Kaliningrad immediately before it stopped in the Finnish port to pick up its cargo:The Arctic Sea was carrying something, not timber and not from Finland,
THAT
 
NECESSITATED
 
SOME
 
MAJOR
 
WORK
 
ON
 
THE
 
SHIP
. Something that required dismantling the bulkhead, complete with gas cutting torches,during two weeks of “repair work” in Kaliningrad before the voyage, and something so large that itcouldn’t be loaded for delivery onto just any little boat.What type of merchandise would require such a major remodeling of the freighter?

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