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Mysterious missing ship found off African coa -

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ELEANOR HALL: A cargo ship that vanished at sea three weeks ago has been found off the west African

The 15 sailors are all safe and are now on board a Russian navy vessel where they are being

The ship's disappearance had baffled maritime investigators but the rumours are that it was
hijacked by armed men who were posing as Swedish drug investigators.

Jennifer Macey has our report.

JENNIFER MACEY: Three weeks ago the 4,000 tonne freighter the Arctic Sea simply vanished sparking
fears of piracy in the closely guarded European waters..

On Sunday night the Russian navy intercepted the ship 300 miles from the Cape Verde islands off the
west African coast.

The Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters that the ship has been found.

ANATOLY SERDYUKOV (voiceover): Today at one o'clock in the morning Moscow time, the ship was found
300 miles off the Cape Verde islands. The crew have been transferred to our anti-submarine ship,
the Ladny, where they are being questioned to clarify all the circumstances of the disappearance
and loss of signal of the ship.

The crew are all well and alive. They are not under armed guard we just transferred them to us and
are talking to them.

JENNIFER MACEY: The Arctic Sea set sail from Finland on July 23rd heading for Algeria. It was
carrying 15 sailors and a cargo of sawn timber worth almost $2 million.

A day later the crew told Swedish police that ten masked men posing as drug investigators had
boarded the ship searching it from top to bottom and tying up the crew. The hijackers reportedly
left on an inflatable boat 12 hours later and the ship continued on its way.

The ship then passed through the English Channel where it made contact with British coastguards.
Its last official recorded position was off northern France on the 30th July after which it

Dr Michael White is an adjunct professor in maritime law at the University of Queensland. He says
ships don't simply disappear.

MICHAEL WHITE: The circumstances surrounding this ship clearly calls for a further explanation than
is being made public. When people say "disappeared off the radar" that's a euphemism.

I see from the public information it had the international system for ship reporting that reports
its position every now and again and it can be interrogated to show internationally where it is at
any time; somebody switched if off.

JENNIFER MACEY: The question I guess is whether that somebody was the crew or whether it was the
alleged hijackers.

MICHAEL WHITE: Exactly. It's possible that one or more of the crew were involved in this and the
rest were entirely innocent victims. And the owners stoutly maintain it was just bulk timber that
was the cargo.

JENNIFER MACEY: So do you think it may have been carrying illicit cargo?

MICHAEL WHITE: Well, that's the first thing that sort of leaps out at one. Nobody would hijack a
ship for bulk timber: it's too hard to sell on the black market.

JENNIFER MACEY: The ship may have been found, but it's still unclear why it disappeared and whether
it was hijacked by pirates. The Arctic Sea is owned by a Finnish shipping company registered in
Malta and crewed by Russian sailors.

Dr White says if this is a crime on the high seas those responsible should fall under the
jurisdiction of Malta where the ship is registered.

DR MICHAEL WHITE: If they're pirates then they're criminals availed to be dealt with under
international law and anyone can deal with them. If they're not actually pirates, if they just...
part of the crew committed a crime on board, they should be dealt with by the national law of the
ship's registry.

JENNIFER MACEY: Adding to the confusion, the Finnish shipping company which owns the ship says they
received ransom demand but this hasn't been verified.

With the crew now being questioned by Russian authorities it may take some time before the real
story emerges.

ELEANOR HALL: Jennifer Macey reporting.