15 Aug 2009

Mystery surrounds sighting of missing ship

11:29 am on 15 August 2009

Reports that a missing merchant ship had turned up in the Atlantic Ocean off the Cape Verde islands have proven untrue, reports from Russia say.

The disappearance of the ship, the Arctic Sea, and its 15-member Russian crew, has baffled authorities in Europe and North Africa. Moscow has sent warships to find it.

A Portuguese news agency reported local officials said the ship was spotted 400 nautical miles north of the Cape Verde islands, off West Africa.

Russia's RIA agency quoted the country's ambassador to Cape Verde as saying the reports did not prove to be true.

The Arctic Sea was last seen off the coast of France two weeks ago and maritime experts have suggested it may have been hijacked.

Russian warships were ordered to join the hunt for the 4000-tonne bulk carrier with a 15-strong Russian crew that went missing shortly after passing through the Dover Strait between France and Britain.

The Finnish-chartered vessel was sailing from Finland to the Algerian port of Bejaia with a $US1.3 million load of timber. It was due to have docked on 4 August.

Maritime experts say if the vessel has been seized by hijackers it is possible they intend to use it as an unregistered "ghost ship", or pirates may be trying to test security levels in northern European waters.