17 Aug 2009

Ransom demand for missing ship - reports

3:29 pm on 17 August 2009

There are reports that a ransom demand has been made for a missing Russian-crewed cargo ship.

Finnish police say the demand, which has not been confirmed as genuine, was put to the Arctic Sea's Finnish owners, the BBC reports.

A Finnish radio station said it had been told the 15 crew members' lives would be at risk if it was not paid.

CNN reports the ship, which sails under a Maltese flag, was carrying timber from Finland to Algeria when it reported trouble on 24 July.

Its 15-member crew told authorities that eight to 12 people armed with guns and pistols boarded the vessel. The attackers left after about 12 hours, CNN said, quoting the Malta Maritime Authority.

Some days later the 4,000-tonne ship disappeared off the radar after sailing through the English Channel.

A sighting 400 nautical miles from Cape Verde islands, off West Africa, was reported on Friday by a Portuguese news agency, but this was denied by Russia's ambassador to the islands.

The disappearance of the ship and its Russian crew has baffled authorities in Europe and North Africa. Moscow has sent warships to find it.

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.

The BBC reports there has been huge speculation over the reason for the ship's disappearance, ranging from pirates to a mafia dispute to a commercial quarrel.