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Even a Bond movie would dismiss this scenario as implausible: a missing ship sailing through some of the world’s busiest waters while secret services fake a hijack and rescue.
Yet a week after the “Arctic Sea” was found in the Atlantic, the maritime world is abuzz with theories about what really happened.
And there’s no shortage of sinister statements emerging – take Russian expert Mikhail Voitenko, who insists no criminal gang could have done it.
On his website he concluded: “I can’t say anything about the roots of this story and I don’t plan to dig any further… I need to think about my own skin. Understand that as you will.”
Many seem to understand that Israel’s secret services may have hijacked a covert attempt to sell Russian arms to Iran – an allegation put forward in Novaya Gazeta and strenuously denied in the Jerusalem Post.
While former defence minister Ephraim Sneh admitted there was “something fishy” about the case, foreign office and presidential spokesmen in Israel both gave full denials.
Officially, the Russian Navy has said it was a straightforward hijacking with a ransom of $1.5 million demanded. Meanwhile Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has praised western efforts to help locate the ship and called for the case to be analysed for future reference, RIA Novosti reports. He also dismissed the Mossad link as “fantasy”.
But awkward questions have been raised about why it took three days – rather than the standard 24 hours – to report the vessel missing.
It is also unclear how a ship with all its communications equipment working, and whose crew had mobile phones while sailing close to the shore, remained incommunicado for over a week.
Britain’s Financial Times claims a source from the ship’s owner, Solchart, suspected a “secret cargo” had been hidden onboard during an extensive refit in Kaliningrad.
Adding to the confusion, the Maltese Maritime Authority – which registered the “Arctic Sea” – announced it “had never really disappeared”.
Theories include a bid to extort cash from the ship owner, possibly with the connivance of the 15 Russian crew members – who have yet to speak publicly after returning home.