MOSCOW – Russia's navy detained eight men accused of hijacking the Arctic Sea freighter near Sweden and forcing the crew to sail to West Africa, state news agencies quoted the defense minister as saying Tuesday.
Anatoly Serdyukov reportedly said the suspected hijackers — citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Russia — were detained by a Russian naval ship without a shot being fired.
The Russian-crewed cargo ship was found Monday off Cape Verde, some 2,000 miles from the Algerian port where it was supposed to dock two weeks ago.
Serdyukov had informed President Dmitry Medvedev that the 15 Russian crew members were safe and had been taken aboard the Russian naval vessel for questioning.
On July 30, Swedish police said the ship's owner had reported that the crew claimed the vessel was boarded by masked men on July 24 near the Swedish island of Gotland. The invaders reportedly had tied up the crew, beat them, claimed they were looking for drugs, then sped off about 12 hours later in an inflatable craft.
Serdyukov reportedly said Tuesday the hijackers had boarded the freighter under the pretext that there was a problem with their inflatable craft. The hijackers, who were armed, then forced the crew to change course and turned off the freighter's navigation equipment, he was quoted as saying.
By the time the Swedish report of the attack had emerged, the ship had already passed through the English Channel, where it made its last known radio contact on July 28. Signals from the ship's tracking device were picked up off France's coast the next day, but that was the last known trace of it until Monday.
The disappearance of the 320-foot Arctic Sea perplexed experts and officials across Europe, with speculation about what happened ranging from its being seized by pirates to involvement in a murky commercial dispute.