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Missing ship probably hijacked, say vessel operators

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-08-13

The Russian operator of a Maltese-registered, Finnish-chartered ship which disappeared late last month after passing through the Dover Strait between France and Britian believes the vessel was hijacked.

AFP - The operator of a merchant cargo ship that has disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean said on Thursday it believed the vessel has been hijacked.

The Maltese-registered, Finnish-chartered vessel disappeared while sailing from Finland to the Algerian port of Bejaia, where it was due to have docked on Aug. 4 with a $1.3-million load of timber.

"My view is that it is most likely that the vessel has been hijacked," said Viktor Matveyev, director of the Finnish company, Solchart, which operates the vessel.

On Wednesday Russian warships were ordered to join the hunt for the Arctic Sea, a 4,000-tonne bulk carrier with a 15-strong Russian crew that went missing shortly after passing through the Dover Strait between France and Britain late last month.

Relatives of the crew declined to comment when contacted by Reuters on Thursday.

The vessel's movements were last recorded on the AisLive ship tracking system off the coast of northern France on July 30, although it has also been spotted off Portugal.

The Malta Maritime Authority said it received reports it was boarded by men posing as police in Swedish waters on July 24.

The vessel was boarded by "eight to twelve persons allegedly masked and wearing uniforms bearing the word 'police' and armed with guns and pistols," the Maltese authority said on Wednesday.

Crew members were assaulted, tied, gagged and blindfolded and some were seriously hurt, it said. They were also questioned about drug trafficking by those posing as police.

Swedish authorities have told Maltese officials that no Swedish law enforcement agencies were involved.

Date created : 2009-08-13