'Arctic Sea' was carrying illegal arms, says general

A general close to the investigation into the mysterious voyage of the Arctic Sea has told a Russian newspaper that he suspected the ship was carrying a secret cargo of illegal weapons, as many conspiracy theorists have suggested.

The newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, interviewed what it described as a senior general in the Russian Navy who had been close to the investigation. The general said that he knew far more than he could say openly at this stage, but his testimony, if genuine, represents the first concrete information to come out of the investigation, which has been shrouded in mystery.

He said the theory that the ship might have been carrying drugs was excluded from the beginning, but that the investigation had focussed on a possible weapons shipment, in particular S-300 or X-55 missiles bound for Iran, and sold by a "weapons mafia" involving top Russian officials but operating outside of the law.

The efforts which Russia put into recovering a ship that had a stated cargo worth less than £1m, has led many to suspect that there may have been a secret, embarrassing cargo.

"I think that if this journey had been successful, Russia could have ended up in a huge international scandal," he said. "I think that for this reason the order was given from the top to start this huge naval operation. We caught the boat to make sure we didn't end up in a nasty situation."