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'Missing ship' was carrying arms for Iran, Russian expert claims

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-07

A Russian maritime expert who claimed the ship Arctic Sea - which went missing and was subsequently recaptured from 'pirates' by the Russian navy - was carrying missiles destined for Iran, has fled Russia fearing reprisals.

AFP - A Russian maritime expert who said a cargo ship reported missing en route to Africa had been carrying weapons said on Thursday he had fled the country after being threatened.

 

"Some influential people called me and ... advised me to leave Russia within several hours," Mikhail Voitenko, editor of Russia's respected Sovfracht maritime journal, told Reuters by telephone from Turkey.

 

"I am afraid of being detained (in Russia)." He said the callers did not identify themselves.

 

The Maltese-registered Arctic Sea, officially carrying timber from Russia to Algeria, was boarded by a group of eight men on July 24.

 

Its whereabouts were a mystery for weeks until Russian warships intercepted it off Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 17.

 

Charges of kidnapping and piracy have been brought against eight men -- citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Russia -- last week in Moscow. Their lawyers had called them "peaceful ecologists".

 

Prosecutors maintained the ship was carrying timber.

 

While the ship was still missing, Voitenko caused an international storm by saying the ship was carrying illegal weapons. Describing the situation as "cloak and dagger stuff", he had said the state was most likely involved.

 

Speaking to Reuters on Thursday, he said: "They warned me, saying they didn't want another scandal."

 

He rejected a comment made by his journal on its website, www.sovfracht.ru, that he had not fled but rather gone on a business trip to Istanbul.

 

"Sovfrakht simply doesn't want any problems connected to me," he said.

 

Last week Russia's top general said the military would search the 97-metre (318 ft), 4,000 dwt ship for any possible secret cargo.

 

The missing ship made headlines around the world, both because of the talk about it carrying weapons to the Middle East and because its initial disappearance raised talk of a spread of piracy into European waters for the first time in centuries.

 

Date created : 2009-09-07

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