Press report: Swedish police see ship hijacking as “mistake”
Lengthy delay in reporting incident
Swedish police now suspect that the hijacking of the Arctic Sea, a freight vessel sailing under the Maltese flag and operated by a Finnish shipping company, was a mistake on the part of the attackers. According to the Swedish late-edition tabloid Expressen, the masked attackers in a fast rubber boat mistakenly took over the wrong ship in Swedish waters over a week ago.
The Swedish police report getting numerous tipoffs on Friday concerning the movements of a rubber boat that is believed to have been used in the hijacking of a ship in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden.
The Arctic Sea, a Maltese-registered vessel operated by a Finnish shipping company, was taken over by the pirates in the early hours of Friday, July 24th.
Tommy Hydfors, deputy head of the Swedish National Criminal Police, said that there have been at least five reported sightings of the boat.
He could not say on Friday if the sightings might help find the pirates. The police were also looking for a radar recording device that might have shown the movements of the boat.
The hijackers, who identified themselves as police officers, physically abused the crew and ransacked the ship, saying that they were looking for drugs.
After holding the crew captive for about 12 hours, the hijackers left, and the ship continued on its voyage.
Electronic records of the movements of the ship confirmed that something unusual was happening with the vessel in the waters between the Swedish islands of Gotland and Öland on the day in question.
Shortly before midnight, the ship was on course, travelling south at a speed of about ten knots. Information from later in the day indicated that the bow of the southbound vessel was pointing almost due north, and the speed was less than three knots.
“The ship had stopped, gone in circles, and moved in an odd manner before continuing on its way.” Hydfors says.
The movements are well documented, because large ships are required to have equipment which broadcast information on its speed and course every few seconds.
The Arctic Sea, which is just under 100 metres in length, is operated by a Finnish shipping line, but it sails under the flag of Malta. All of the members of the crew are Russian citizens. When the attack occurred, it was en route from the Finnish port of Pietarsaari to Algeria with a load of sawn timber.
It took several days before Swedish police learned that the incident had taken place. “We would like to know the reason for this, mainly from the captain of the ship”, Hydfors says.
He adds that the shipping line reported the incident to the Russian Embassy; the ship’s crew are all Russians. Apparently, the diplomats reported the event to the Swedish Foreign Ministry, and from there the news went to the ministry of Defence and the coast guard, and finally, to the police.
Viktor Matvejev, CEO of the shipping line Solchart Management, says that the company immediately contacted the authorities in Malta. “They said that the information had been passed on to the Swedish Coast Guard.”
The Arctic Sea is registered in Malta. Helsingin Sanomat was not able to reach Maltese authorities for comment on Friday.
When asked why the police were not notified immediately when the ship was raided, Matvejev noted that it is the business of the Maltese maritime authorities to report the incident to local police. He added that the shipping line was under the impression that the men who boarded the vessel really were police officers.
The ship is expected in Algeria on Tuesday, a day behind schedule. Matvejev cannot yet say what will happen then, and whether or not the ship would return to Finland.
“It is in the hands of the Swedish police.”
Tommy Hydfors said on Friday that it had not been decided yet if the Swedish police would go to Algeria to question the crew. The Swedish police have exchanged some e-mail with the ship, but as the vessel had been at open sea, it had not been able to reach it by telephone.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Freight vessel of Finnish shipping line targeted by mystery pirates in Swedish waters (31.7.2009)