Arctic Sea ship hijackers jailed by Russian court

File photo of the Arctic Sea The ship's disappearance prompted a highly unusual international search

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A court in northern Russia has jailed six people for the hijacking of the cargo ship Arctic Sea whose mysterious disappearance sparked a global search.

The men - a Russian, a Latvian and an Estonian, as well as three others described as stateless - were given sentences ranging from 7 to 12 years.

The freighter left Finland in July 2009 and disappeared after passing through the English Channel.

The Russian navy said it was eventually found off the Cape Verde islands.

The Maltese-flagged ship's purported destination had been thousands of miles away in Algeria.

It was supposedly carrying timber but its disappearance had led to speculation that it was smuggling illicit weapons, possibly Russian missiles destined for Syria or Iran.

Analysis

All the trials of the Arctic Sea hijackers are now over. But we are no closer to knowing what actually happened.

The official Russian position - and the one presented by prosecutors at the trials - was that the ship was boarded by pirates demanding a ransom, shortly after leaving Finland with a cargo of timber for Algeria.

There have been persistent suggestions, however, that the ship was actually carrying weapons, possibly S-300 missile defence systems destined for Iran, possibly weapons for Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is something Russia strongly denies.

For many commentators, there is something about the official version of the story that just does not add up.

Why were the Russian government so cagey about the incident at the time? Why did the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disappear for a day in September, apparently on a secret visit to Moscow?

And why did the pirates choose this particular ship to hijack?

There were reports that Israel had warned Moscow that it was aware the ship was carrying S-300 surface-to-air missiles.

Hard labour

Three other men have already been imprisoned in connection with the hijacking and Russian authorities say everyone involved has now been convicted.

While the court in Archangelsk gave jail terms to all six of the men for piracy and kidnapping, one of the accused, Yevgeny Mironov, was sentenced to 7 years' hard labour. Russian media reported that his lawyer was planning an appeal.

According to Russian investigators, the men had made their plans to attack cargo ships from the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

Crew members reported the Arctic Sea had been boarded on 24 July, close to two Swedish islands, by men wearing police uniforms.

Although radio contact with the ship was lost after it sailed between Britain and France, it is understood that several countries continued to track its progress as it headed towards Cape Verde, off the West African coast.

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