#5 - JRL 2009-167 - JRL Home
No suspicious cargo on board Arctic Sea - Russian investigators

MOSCOW, September 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russian investigators said on Tuesday they had searched the Arctic Sea vessel and found only lumber registered in the ship's cargo log.

"The Arctic Sea vessel is currently in the open sea. Investigators have thoroughly searched the cargo on board the ship, and found only lumber. No cargo has been found except that registered in the consignment log," the Investigation Committee of the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement.

"A group of investigators will work aboard the ship for several more days," the statement said.

Russian and international media has been rife with rumors that the ship manned by a Russian crew could have been involved in an arms-smuggling or trafficking operation on a state level, including suggestions that Russia attempted to deliver missiles for S-300 air defense systems to Iran or Syria.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed these rumors on Tuesday as "a complete lie."

He said Russia would conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ship's disappearance.

The Maltese-flagged vessel, officially carrying lumber from Russia to Algeria, was reportedly boarded by a group of eight men on July 24 and mysteriously disappeared in the Atlantic

It was discovered off Cape Verde on August 16 by Russia's Ladny frigate and is currently being towed to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk. The ship will not make port calls on the way and is due to arrive at the Russian port in late September.

Four crew members remain on board, while the other 11 were flown to Moscow last month to be questioned by the Russian authorities amid speculation that they may have been in cahoots with the alleged hijackers. They have reportedly now returned home to the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk.

Eight men, including citizens of Russia, Latvia and Estonia, have been arrested and charged with piracy and kidnapping.

Malta, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia have set up an investigation team to look into the incident. They have agreed that any other suspects in the case will be tried in their home countries.

Representatives of Russian, Finnish, Swedish and Estonian investigation authorities, each carrying out their own investigation into the incident, met last Thursday in Moscow.

S-300s are considered one of the world's most effective all-altitude regional air defense systems, comparable in performance to the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot system.

Russia has dragged its feet on implementing a 2007 deal with Iran on the supply of S-300s. The contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, has met with strong international opposition.

Israel and the United States have been making proactive diplomatic efforts to influence Russia to drop the plans. They suspect the Islamic Republic of secretly seeking to build nuclear weapons, and have refused to rule out a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

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