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'Arctic Sea hijackers in custody': Russia

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'Arctic Sea hijackers in custody': Russia
10:13 CEST+02:00
The Russian navy has arrested eight men who allegedly hijacked the Maltese-registered freighter the Arctic Sea off the coast of Öland in Swedish waters in July, the Russian defence minister has confirmed.

"These individuals boarded the Arctic Sea and demanded, at gunpoint, that the crew should follow all their orders without hesitation," Russian defence minister Anatolij Serdjukov said according to Russian news agencies.

Serdjukov added that the release of the Russian crew was secured after locating the vessel, which was carrying a load of timber from Finland to Algeria, off Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean.

The arrested hijackers are being held on the Russian warship Ladnij and are under interrogation.

The vessel was hijacked in Swedish territorial waters by a group travelling in a speed boat. The group claimed that their engine had cut out before boarding the cargo ship, Serdjukov said.

Eight of the alleged hijackers, reported to be Russians, Estonians and Latvians, have been arrested and are now in the custody of the Russian authorities.

The vessel's crew has been transferred to the island Sal from where they will be flown to Moscow, according to Cape Verde's foreign minister.

The Arctic Sea, which is sailing under the Maltese flag, was reported to have been hijacked off the coast of Öland in the Baltic Sea in the early hours of July 24th.

The Swedish police were later informed that the hijackers had left the vessel and that it had continued its journey toward Algeria. Contact with the ship was reportedly lost on July 31st and it never reached its scheduled destination.

Unconfirmed reports filtered through that the ship had been located off Cape Verde on August 14th and that a ransom was being demanded for the crew, ship and its 13 million kronor ($1.8 million) cargo.

The Russian authorities confirmed on Sunday that they had located the ship and that the crew were under interrogation.

Media reports over the disappearance of the ship have been exaggerated all along, detective inspector Jan-Olof Nyholm at the Finnish Central Criminal Police, said on Tuesday.

"We have had an idea were it was heading for some time, but for tactical reasons we have not been able to comment on it. It was a case of aggravated criminal extortion and there was a very real threat to life and limb," he told news agency TT.

Nyholm confirmed that the vessel was not "anywhere near as missing" as many believed. He was also unwilling to confirm whether the vessel had been hijacked. He said only that many fantastical stories had been circulating around the case of the Arctic Sea.

He was neither able to comment on which country's judicial system would handle any trial of the alleged hijackers.

"We have always been working on the aggravated criminal extortion and the alleged hijacking in Swedish waters. We are now trying to establish a clear picture of what has actually occurred."

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