High Politics: The Curious Case of the Arctic Sea

How do you lose an entire ship full of weapons? While it’s hardly a headline now when a freighter is hijacked off the Somali coast, it certainly is one when a freighter, purported to be carrying a clandestine arms shipment is – especially when the hijacking occurs not off the Horn of Africa, but rather in European waters, in the Baltic Sea.

The ship in question is named the Arctic Sea and hails from a Russian port. On this specific run, the ship was headed from Finland to Algeria with a cargo manifest purporting to contain of over $ 2,000,000 worth of timber, according to reports published by The Telegraph on September 6, 2009. While the ship was on a trip from Finland to Algeria, it’s original port of call was Kaliningrad on July 17th, a place well known for being a hub for illegal arms trafficking from the former Soviet states to destinations and buyers unknown.

The Arctic Sea was originally reported hijacked on July 24th as it made its way through the Baltic Sea to pass through the English Channel. After the ship passed through the Channel on July 28th, it was reported to be ‘lost’ on all radar and a massive search involving both Russian and NATO naval fleets ensued. A rescue party dispatched from a Russian Destroyer off the coast of West Africa eventually recovered the ship on August 17th – detaining the hijackers (7 Estonians and 2 Latvians) and rescuing the Russian crew. This is where the official stories seem to end and the conspiracy theories begin.

In an article dated September 6th, The Telegraph reported that several sources in both Russian and Israeli security services have questioned the official Kremlin explanation of the hijacking, reported by the Lawyer for the accused hijackers to have been some sort of Eco-terrorism gone awry, and instead have focused on what many security sources believe was an interception of a secret arms shipment. While reports differ as to the cargo, many point towards a possible shipment of Russian S-300 Surface to Air Missiles, a state of the art anti-aircraft weapons system, rumoured to have been ultimately bound for Iran. Because of the Iran angle, the story has received a fair bit of coverage in Israeli newspapers, specifically the Jerusalem Post, which was one of the first papers to report the theory that Israeli security was responsible for taking over the ship.

The major problem with this theory is that the detained hijackers are all Eastern Europeans with no connection to Israel and are claiming to be involved in an Eco-guardian ship group akin to Green Peace. The editor of a small Russian online paper, Mikhail Voitenjo, who was one of the first Russian journalists to break the supposed arms deal angle, spoke to The Telegraph, stating that he has been forced to flee the country after receiving threats from people he believed to be involved in Russian Security Services. Ultimately, whatever actually happened on the Arctic Sea will likely not be known for quite sometime, but the “facts” will likely come out as the hijackers are tried before a Russian court sometime in the future.

Aaron Bolus

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