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"No Suspicious Cargo" Found on Arctic Sea So Far - Ministry

MOSCOW. Aug 25 (Interfax) - There remain a lot of blank spots to the story of the cargo ship Arctic Sea, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

"For instance, it is still unclear whether the 'initial' capture of the ship by an armed group on July 24 of this year and subsequent events are links in the same chain of piracy or not," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

"We assume that the suspects seized the ship in an area outside the jurisdiction of any state and that the exact location will be established in the course of the preliminary investigation," the statement said.

"No suspicious cargo was found on board in the course of an initial examination of the ship. A more thorough examination will be made at one of the ports along the route of the Arctic Sea," it said.

The statement also said that, when Russian warship Ladny overtook the Arctic Sea off Cape Verde on August 17, the cargo ship's captain "unexpectedly claimed" that the vessel belonged to North Korea.

"The same day the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang contacted the North Korean side in order to urgently check the statement of the captain of the ship that had been detained that it was the ship Chongdin 2, which belonged to a North Korean ship owner and was en route from Havana to Sierra Leone with a load of palm timber," the statement said.

"The North Korean side clarified the situation," the ministry said.

Pyongyang responded that at the moment the Ladny seized the Arctic Sea, the Chongdin 2, "which belongs to the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)," could not have been at that spot because "it was moored at one of the Angolan ports," the ministry said.

"In view of this information, the command of the Russian Navy decided to examine the ship, and the examination confirmed the surmise that it was the Arctic Sea. A team of inspectors went aboard the Arctic Sea, where they found 15 crewmembers (Russian citizens) and eight people who are suspected of hijacking the dry cargo carrier. Some of the crewmembers and the presumed hijackers were moved to the escort ship (Ladny)," the statement said.

"This means that the Arctic Sea was detained on the high seas as a vessel hijacked by persons suspected of piracy. This measure was based on Article 105 of the UN Convention on Maritime Law of 1982," it said.

The ministry also denied allegations that the Arctic Sea had been missing for weeks. "Of course, the dry cargo carrier with a displacement of more tan 7,000 tonnes was never missing. Its movement was being followed, and its coordinates were being reported from several sources, including our foreign partners," the ministry said.

The Arctic Sea is drifting in the Atlantic Ocean at a distance of 250 miles southwest of Cape Verde with four of the crewmembers and several servicemen from the Ladny aboard, the ministry said.

"It needs to be stressed that this incident is international in nature. Beside the Cape Verde government, Finnish, Swedish and Maltese authorities have taken part in seeking to resolve it, with participation by NATO," the ministry said.

"The tasks at this stage include documentarily identifying the hijackers of the Arctic Sea and finding out their citizenship. So far it has been found out that two of the suspects are citizens of Russia, one is a citizen of Estonia, one is a citizen of Latvia, and four are stateless. The arrest of the foreign citizens was immediately reported to the embassies of those countries. Necessary interaction is underway with the state under whose flag the Arctic Sea sails, Malta," the statement said.

"Since Russian law makes no provision for setting up joint teams of investigators, forms of interaction are being sought in order to provide all interested states with information that their international legal status qualifies them to expect in this context," it said.

"It must be borne in mind that we are at the initial stage of the investigation, which involves a merely preliminary legal qualification of this situation and of the actions of the persons who are involved in it," the ministry said.

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