Ransom demanded for missing Arctic Sea

The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation (Centralkriminalpolisen - CKP) has now confirmed that a ransom has been demanded for the missing cargo ship Arctic Sea, which disappeared off the Swedish island of Öland at the end of July.

Ransom demanded for missing Arctic Sea

“The demand was made to the shipping company,” Jan-Olof Nyholm of CKP told TT news agency.

At the same time, Viktor Matvejev, majority owner and managing director of the shipping company Solchart management, denied to Finnish media that any ransom had been demanded.

“We are not going to engage in a debate with the shipping company, but we will stand by our information,” Nyholm said.

He did not want to reveal the amount of the ransom, who is suspected of being behind it or when the the shipping company was contacted.

Police did not want to reveal the information previously “out of respect for personal security”, Nyholm said.

He did not specify whether it concerned the safety of the crew or the safety of shipping company employees.

The German edition of the Financial Times newspaper reported an unconfirmed ransom amount of $1.5 million.

Police cannot confirm with certainty that the ship has been hijacked, but say that there there are strong reasons to suspect that the vessel is under the control of hijackers.

CKP is the equivalent of the Swedish National Investigation Department (Rikskriminalpolisen). Nyholm said the investigation has occurred in cooperation with Swedish and Maltese authorities.

On Friday night, the Cape Verde coast guard confirmed to media that the Arctic Sea had been sighted approximately 740 kilometers from the islands, but the rumours were later denied by Alexander Karpushin, Russia’s ambassador to Cape Verde.

On Saturday, the Arctic Sea – sailing under a Maltese flag, manned by a Russian crew and carrying Finnish cargo – was identified by the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which tracks the ship.

At that time, the vessel was in the Bay of Biscay west of France and travelling southwest. The system received the first signal at 10:08 am Swedish time and a second signal at 10:25 am.

The Arctic Sea, which was carrying a load of timber, is suspected of being hijacked between the Swedish islands of Öland and Gotland on July 24. The vessel was en route to Bejaia in Algeria when it disappeared.

On Wednesday, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev appointed the Russian navy to search for the ship. Nato and Russia have both confirmed that they are in contact regarding the Arctic Sea.

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Sweden steps up Baltic defence in ‘signal’ to Russia

Sweden's defence minister has said his country is carrying out military exercises in the Baltic Sea to 'send a signal' to countries including Russia.

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in 'signal' to Russia
Swedish troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Photo: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten/TT

The so-called “high readiness action” means the Swedish army, navy and air force are currently more visible in the southeastern and southern Baltic Sea and on the island of Gotland.

No details have been disclosed about the number of troops involved in the action.

Sweden is “sending a signal both to our Western partners and to the Russian side that we are prepared to defend Sweden's sovereignty,” Hultqvist told news agency TT.

Ground troops on Gotland. Photo: Bezhav Mahmoud/Försvarsmakten/TT

“There is currently extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea, conducted by Russian as well as Western players, on a scale the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War,” the Swedish Armed Forces' Commander of Joint Operations, Jan Thörnqvist, said in a statement.

“The exercise activities are more complex and have arisen more rapidly than before. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has caused global anxiety and uncertainty. Over all, the situation is more unstable and more difficult to predict,” Thörnqvist said.

A Visby-class corvette and two Jas Gripen jets in the air. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten/TT

Hultqvist said Sweden was also monitoring developments in Belarus “very closely”.

Non-Nato member Sweden, which has not been to war in two centuries and which slashed military spending at the end of the Cold War, reopened a garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.