Missing ship at centre of piracy conspiracy spotted off Africa’s west coast

THE missing “pirate” ship Arctic Sea was spotted far out to sea off Africa’s west coast.

The ship, carrying timber and 15 Russian sailors, passed through the English Channel on July 28 then radioed it had been boarded by gunmen earlier in the voyage.

The Maltese-flagged freighter continued to send radio messages as it sailed along the coasts of France and Portugal, then all contact was lost.

Yesterday French officials said a ship matching its description was seen near the Cape Verde islands, a former Portuguese colony.

Russia’s ambassador to Cape Verde said a Russian naval frigate was headed to the area.

Nato said it was monitoring the situation but was not directly involved in the search.

“We do not have a specific position,” said a spokesman.

Nato began watching developments after the ship reported coming under attack because it was an unusual situation, he said.

The crew had reported the ship was boarded on June 24 in Swedish waters by up to a dozen masked men, who tied them up, questioned them about drug trafficking, beat them and carried out a search before leaving 12 hours later in a high-speed inflatable boat.

The alleged attack, unusual in itself, raised further concerns because it was not reported until the freighter had passed through Britain’s busy shipping lanes and was heading out into the wide Atlantic.

The European Commission suggested the ship may have come under attack a second time.

French maritime authorities said they received radio messages on July 29 as the ship sailed past the north coast of France. The Arctic Sea’s report to British coastguards as it passed through the Dover Strait was the last known voice contact with the crew. The ship had been due to dock 10 days ago in Algeria.

Speculation on what might have happened has ranged from suspicions it was carrying secret cargo, possibly drugs, to theories about a commercial dispute.

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