New piracy fear as cargo ship disappears

A cargo ship that has gone missing after passing through the English Channel may have been the victim of a new kind of piracy, marine intelligence experts said today.



They said the 4,000-tonne, Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea may be heading for the west coast of Africa - scene of many pirate incidents in recent months.

But the experts and other marine authorities continue to be baffled by the fact that the ship has "disappeared" since its last recorded sighting off northern France on July 30.

The ship, with 15 crew aboard and carrying about £1 million-worth of sawn timber from Finland to Algeria, made radio contact with Dover Coastguard as it was about to enter the Strait of Dover on July 28.

The ship should have arrived in Bejaia in northern Algeria on August 4.

According to reports, Swedish authorities were told by the Finnish shipping line operating the vessel that on July 24 it was boarded by up to 10 armed men purporting to be anti-drugs police as it sailed through the Baltic Sea.

Some 12 hours later the intruders apparently left the ship on a high-speed inflatable boat and allowed the vessel to continue on its passage but with its communications equipment damaged.

Then, on August 3, Dover Coastguard was informed by Interpol that the crew had been hijacked in the Baltic Sea and was asked to be alert as it passed through the Channel.

But the Arctic Sea had already completed its voyage through the Strait of Dover. It was last recorded on the AISLive ship tracking system off the coast of Brest, northern France, just before 1.30am on July 30.

Marine intelligence expert Graeme Gibbon-Brooks told Sky News today: "If this is a criminal act, it appears to be following a new business model.

"It seems likely that the vessel will head for the west coast of Africa."

He said it was quite usual for vessels carrying timber to be seized, the timber unloaded and the ship repainted, with a number of instances taking place in south east Asia.

Nick Davis, who runs private security firm Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions, told the BBC's Today programme: "Piracy is piracy - if someone's wanting to take that vessel, and they're not authorised, and they use a speedboat to go and get it, then it's no different to what the Somalis do.

"However, I don't believe they would have boarded that vessel firing weapons in the air, and threatening to kill the crew. While it is piracy, it's not like what we know in Somalia."

Mark Clark, of the UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said Dover Coastguard was unsuspecting of anything untoward as a supposed crew member radioed before the ship journeyed through the Channel - one of the world's busiest waterways.

Mr Clark said: "The ship contacted Dover Coastguard on July 28 and that was the last time anyone has heard from them.

"There didn't seem anything suspicious when contact was made. It could well be that a crew member had a gun put to his head by a hijacker when contact was made, but who knows?"

He went on: "It's bizarre. There is no coastguard I know who can remember anything like this happening. Who would think that a hijacked ship could pass through one of the most policed and concentrated waters in the world?

"It seems strange to think that a ship which had been hijacked was passing along the Channel along with ships carrying day-trippers going over to Calais for the day."

Mr Clark said an innocent explanation was improbable but he added: "We are extremely curious to find out what could have happened to this vessel."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower