Russian ship vanishes off coast of Portugal

The New York TimesAugust 13, 2009 

— Late last month, a cargo ship with a load of timber and a Russian crew of 15 radioed home a location off the coast of Portugal. It has not been heard from since.

The ship, called the Arctic Sea, was due to make port in Algeria on Aug. 4 to deliver its cargo. It never arrived. All attempts to raise the ship on radio or locate its emergency beacon have failed.

"Unfortunately, the location of the ship is still not known," Viktor Matveyev, director of Solchart, the ship's Finland-based operator, said by telephone on Tuesday. "There have been no communications and no signals from the instrument that transmitted the ship's location."

Though details are still murky, word of the missing ship has conjured images of the daring pirate raids frequent in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's coast. Before it disappeared, the captain radioed that unidentified men claiming to be police had raided the ship, but he said they had released it. An anchor for Russia's NTV television called the Arctic Sea the "first ship captured by pirates in Europe."

Amid fears of a possible hijacking, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev ordered his defense minister to personally take charge of the search, the Kremlin Web site said Tuesday. Russian warships are searching.

So far, nothing.

"It is quite difficult to try to determine what could have happened," said Cyrus Mody of the London-based International Maritime Bureau. "It would not go down without a trace, but in the shipping industry anything is possible."

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