Vanished ship is spotted off Cape Verde

The Russian-crewed cargo ship "Arctic Sea" that vanished two weeks ago has been spotted off the Cape Verde islands, local officials said, amid suspicions that the vessel, which dropped off the radar on July 28, had been attacked.


AFP - A Russian-crewed cargo ship that vanished two weeks ago has been spotted off the Cape Verde islands, officials said Friday, after indications emerged that the vessel had been attacked twice.

The spotting of the Arctic Sea came as Russian warships scoured the Atlantic Ocean in search of it and intense speculation mounted over its fate, with the vessel having dropped off the radar after passing through the English Channel.

Cape Verdean coastguard officials were considering what action to take if the ship entered their territorial waters, a military source working with the coastguard said on condition of anonymity.

The vessel "is some 400 nautical miles (740 kilometres) off one of the islands of Cape Verde, therefore outside its territorial waters," the official said.

"The Cape Verde coastguard is in contact with international agencies and organisations that are continually informing it of the movement and progress of the ship," the source said, adding that "when the ship enters our jurisdiction, we will decide in consultation with our partners what actions to take."

Cape Verde's general director of defence Pedro Reis told the Portuguese news agency Lusa that the Arctic Sea was 400 nautical miles north of Sao Vicente in the archipelago some 450 kilometres (280 miles) off the coast of Senegal.

In Paris, Commander Jerome Baroe of the French navy information service told AFP that a Portuguese plane had flown over the ship. A Portuguese military spokesman could not confirm the information.

Russia and NATO were in contact over the ship, a spokeswoman for the military alliance said. Moscow's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin said on radio that "the situation there is dramatic," without disclosing further details.

Moscow's ambassador to Cape Verde, Alexander Karpushin, said he had not been "officially" informed by the military here that the Arctic Sea had been spotted off the islands.

He also said searches for the ship were continuing with Russian ships, submarines and satellites "and other means of detection." Karpushin declined to provide details on where the searches were taking place.

Experts have debated whether pirates, a mafia quarrel or a commercial dispute were behind the disappearance of the Maltese-flagged ship, which left Finland on July 23.

It had been due to arrive in Algeria on August 4 with a cargo of sawn timber worth more than a million euros (1.42 million dollars).

The disappearance of such a large ship on one of the world's main shipping lanes sparked deep concern.

A European Union spokesman said Friday that the ship appeared to have been attacked twice but not in "traditional" acts of piracy.

EU Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr said "radio calls were apparently received from the ship which had supposedly been under attack twice -- the first time off the Swedish coast and then off the Portuguese coast.

"From information currently available 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," he said, without going into details.

Selmayr said a "coordinated reaction has been established between the (EU) member states concerned by this matter" but offered no further comment "in order not to hinder the ongoing law enforcement activities."

The ship is linked to an automatic tracking system but the last signal was received on July 30, showing it was off the coast of northwestern France.

In Helsinki, the Arctic Sea's Finnish operating company, Solchart, said Friday it had been unable to contact the ship's crew.

"From our side, we are just trying to get hold of the ship, sending messages all the time, dialing the numbers. No response, unfortunately," Viktor Matveyev, director and majority owner of Solchart, told AFP.

"The last definite position we have received in our office was August 1. The ship was passing a lighthouse in Portugal."

For its part, "The US Navy is aware of the situation and is monitoring. To date, the US Navy has not been asked to assist," spokesman Lieutenant Commander Tamsen Reese told AFP.

Pirate attacks in European waters are extremely rare and a spokesman for Britain's Maritime and Coastguard Agency said he believed that if the Arctic Sea had been hijacked, it would be the first such incident in living memory.

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