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'Hijackers could remain on board': coastguard

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07:47 CEST+02:00
A group of masked men alleged to have hijacked the ship the Arctic Sea off the coast of Sweden last month could have remained on board the vessel when it passed through the English Channel, the British coastguard has claimed.

All vessels that pass through the English Channel are obliged to submit a report to the British Coastguard. When the Finnish cargo ship the Arctic Sea passed through no suspicions over an ongoing crime were raised.

"It could have been a crew member we were talking to. But it could also have been a hijacker or a crew member under duress," Fred Gill at the British coastguard said.

The British authorities did not therefore carry out any extra check of the freighter, which has since disappeared off the radar while carrying a €1.3 million ($1.85 million) cargo of timber for the Swedish-Finnish forestry concern Stora Enso.

Gill pointed out that when the vessel passed through British waters they had not received any information that the ship had been hijacked.

"I think that it is a little strange that we were not contacted by some authority before the ship passed the channel," he said.

The Swedish police are not however involved in tracking the vessel.

"It is a ship that is sailing under a Maltese flag, has a Russian crew and Finnish cargo. We are investigating the incident off Öland and nothing else," said Ylva Voxby at the Swedish National Police Board.

She says that the last contact with the ship occurred on July 31st.

The crew have confirmed that they were boarded by black-clad police. The reports that they were assaulted also come from the crew - but via the shipping firm Solchart Management, Voxby pointed out.

The vessel was reportedly hijacked by black-clad masked men claiming to be narcotics police as it passed through Swedish waters between Gotland and Öland in the Baltic Sea in the early hours of July 24th.

Arctic Sea's destination was Bejaia in Algeria. According to Fred Gill the ship was last seen by a surveillance plane off the coast of Portugal.

The Russian police security service FSB are investigating the case, but Stora Enso say they have no idea where it is.

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