Thursday, September 17, 2009

Malta raises objections over Arctic Sea handover — investigators

© REUTERS/ Handout
MOSCOW, September 17 (RIA Novosti) - The Arctic Sea is unable to call at the Spanish port of Las Palmas after Malta refused to take part in the handover of the ship, Russian investigators said on Thursday.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office said on Wednesday the transfer of the Arctic Sea, currently anchored 15-17 miles off Spain's Canary Islands, would take place from September 17 through September 18. The investigators did not disclose whom the ship would be handed over to.
"The Maltese decision is making it difficult for the vessel to call at the port of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, which was agreed in advance with Spain," the committee said in a statement.
The decision also makes things difficult both for the crew and for a team of Russian investigators who completed their investigation on Wednesday into the recent incident on board the ship.
The Maltese-flagged and Russian-crewed vessel, officially carrying lumber from Russia to Algeria, was reportedly boarded by a group of eight men on July 24. Officials later said it had disappeared in the Atlantic. It was freed off Cape Verde on August 16 by a Russian warship.
The Committee spokesman, Vladimir Markin, described Malta's refusal as "inconsistent and illogical," and said it ran counter to the international convention on the law of the sea.
Spanish authorities gave permission for the Arctic Sea, the Ladny frigate, which freed the cargo vessel from hijackers, and a Russian tug boat to call at Las Palmas on Tuesday, but cancelled the decision on Wednesday without giving any explanation.
Spain's Foreign Ministry held intensive talks with Russian and Maltese ambassadors on Wednesday and on Thursday morning.
Russian and international media has speculated that the ship could have been involved in a state-sponsored arms trafficking operation, including suggestions that Russia attempted to deliver missiles for S-300 air defense systems to Iran or Syria. The speculation was dismissed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this month.
A crew member close to the investigation told RIA Novosti on Wednesday that it had been established that the Arctic Sea had over 6,000 metric tons of timber on board.


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