Pirates of Penzance?

13 August 2009 By Janine Ketterer

As fear of modern-day pirates looms, the waters of Europe have seemed safe. But a missing Russian cargo ship, Arctic Sea, may be the first casualty of pirates invading the “secure” waters of the Western World, the English Channel in particular, 50 miles southwest of Penzance to be exact.

According to an article on the on August 12, the Arctic Sea crew made their last contact with officials July 28 and has not been heard from since. The fear is that pirates are behind the mystery of the missing ship. "Speculation [is] that the Arctic Sea is being used for smuggling weapons or drugs, has been seized for ransom or has been turned into a ‘phantom ship,” states the Times article.

The vessel was on her way from Finland to Algeria, and according to the last contact with her crew, was set to arrive in Béjaïa, northern Algeria, on August 3. The ship was last tracked on July 30, about 50 miles south of Penzance and heading southwest.

Arctic Sea was carrying £1.13 million cargo of lumber, but it is said that the cargo would not be reason for a hijacking. There is speculation that the vessel may have been carrying contraband cargo unbeknownst to anyone. It has also been said that if Arctic Sea sank, her cargo of lumber would be afloat; so far there is no evidence of this.

“To add to the deepening mystery it has emerged that the Arctic Sea’s crew had reported being boarded by armed men claiming to be Swedish police in the Baltic Sea on July 24," says the Times article. "The crew claimed to have been tied up in a 12-hour ordeal during which the raiders searched the ship before leaving empty-handed. Natalya Gracheva, a journalist who interviewed the crew, said: ‘the attackers were very well armed, using hand-to-hand combat, and were quite familiar with the ship’s technology.’”

Another theory at work -- fueled by rumors of illegal arms shipments from Russia to Africa -- is that the crew themselves mutinied in protest of possible contraband cargo.

And the final theory: Arctic Sea joins the ranks of other “phantom ships,” much like Mary Celeste or Flying Dutchman.

The search for Arctic Sea and its crew continues as the Russian Naval fleet joined the hunt. Family and friends of the crew hope for a safe return, but until then, they will play the waiting game, awaiting a ransom request from hijackers or a sign of the cargo.