An international maritime search was underway tonight for a missing cargo ship amid fears it was under the control of pirates as it passed through the English Channel.
The Maltese-registered Arctic Sea and its 15-strong Russian crew have not been heard from since communicating with British Coastguards as it prepared to enter the Strait of Dover from the North Sea at 1.52pm on July 28.
There are fears that the 3,988-tonne ship, carrying sawn timber from Finland to Algeria, was under the control of pirates when contact was made with the British Coastguards.
Mark Clark, of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), said Dover Coastguard did not suspect anything untoward as a supposed crew member made radio contact before the ship made its passage along the Channel.
The person on board the vessel told the Coastguard the ship was due to arrive in Bejaia in northern Algeria on August 4 at 11pm – a mandatory process for any ship wanting to enter British waters.
But its whereabouts was shrouded in mystery tonight amid reports that the Russian navy is to deploy vessels to help locate the missing ship.
Mr Clark said: “It’s bizarre. There is no Coastguard I know who can remember anything like this happening.
“Who would think that a hijacked ship could pass through one of the most policed and concentrated waters in the world?"
Mr Clark said an innocent explanation was looking highly unlikely and he added: “We are extremely curious to find out what could have happened to this vessel.”