Report: Vanished ship’s signal appears off France

Author: By Jim Heintz, Associated Press

The contradictory claims deepened the mystery surrounding the ship, the Arctic
Sea. Today, widespread reports suggested it may be in the vicinity of Cape
Verde, off the coast of Africa some 2,000 miles south of the Bay of Biscay.

The respected Sovfrakht maritime site said the ship’s signal appeared on a
tracking service about 0830 GMT this morning in the Bay of Biscay.

The site cautioned, however, that the Arctic Sea’s Automatic Identification
System equipment may not be on the ship itself anymore. The signal
disappeared after about an hour, it said.

Hours later, French Marines spokesman Capt. Jerome Baroe said the signals in
question had come from Russian warships that were heading from the
Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea. Those ships apparently are different from
the vessels that the Russian Navy dispatched this week to search for the
Arctic Sea.

The freighter, carrying a load of timber, has been missing since July 28 after
passing through the English Channel.

Crew members had reported that the ship was attacked in Swedish waters on July
24 by up to a dozen masked men, who they said tied them up, questioned them
about drug trafficking, beat them and searched the freighter before leaving.

Such an attack would have been unusual in European waters, and raised
questions because it was not reported until the freighter had passed through
Britain’s busy shipping lanes. There have been fears that some of the
attackers might still be aboard, or that the ship came under attack a second
time.

Radio messages from the freighter were later picked up along coasts of France
and Portugal, but efforts to pinpoint the Arctic Sea’s whereabouts have been
difficult in the vast Atlantic and with no communication from the ship’s
15-member Russian crew.

Cape Verde authorities said they had no new information Saturday, though
Russia’s ambassador to the country, Alexander Karpushin, said there was no
confirmation the Arctic Sea had been found.

Baroe said it is “extremely probable” that the ship is off Cape
Verde. He said the French Marines operational center in Brest had received
no information indicating the ship is off the French coast, and so has
launched no search in that area.

The Arctic Sea, which left from Finland on July 23, had been due to make port
Aug. 4 in Algeria with its ?1.3 million (£1.1 million) haul of timber.

The European Commission suggested the ship may have come under attack a second
time off the Portuguese coast, spokesman Martin Selmayr said Friday.

Portugal’s Foreign Ministry said, however, that the ship was never in
Portuguese waters.

The ship’s operator, Solchart Arkhangelsk, said it had no information about a
possible second attack. It said the Arctic Sea’s captain was 50-year-old
Sergei Zaretsky, a veteran of such sea voyages, and the sailors were from
the northwest Russian port city of Arkhangelsk.

Speculation on what might have happened to the ship has ranged from suspicions
that it was carrying secret cargo ? possibly narcotics ? to theories about a
commercial dispute. Security experts have been wary of attributing its
disappearance to bandits, noting that piracy is almost unheard of in
European waters.

“It would seem that these acts, such as they have been reported, have
nothing in common with ‘traditional’ acts of piracy or armed robbery at sea,”
Selmayr said.

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