MOSCOW, August 13 (RIA Novosti) - Russian warships, led by the Ladny frigate, are continuing the search for a Russian-crewed cargo ship missing in the Atlantic since August 1, the Navy said in a statement on Thursday.
The Arctic Sea cargo vessel, which is operated by Solchart Arkhangelsk Ltd and has a 15-member Russian crew on board, was last sited off the coast of Portugal and is now feared to have been hijacked.
"The Russian Navy ships continue to carry out the [search] task in the Atlantic, following set courses and searching for the Arctic Sea vessel," the statement said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered on Wednesday measures to track, monitor and, if necessary, free the ship from the hijackers after Solchart requested state assistance in the search-and-rescue operation.
Russia's Defense Ministry later said that it had dispatched Black Sea Fleet vessels now on a mission in the Atlantic to hunt for the cargo ship, and all search-and-rescue means, including satellite reconnaissance, have been deployed.
According to the Navy's statement, the Russian warships have established contacts with the Russian state maritime rescue center and a number of international organizations monitoring maritime shipping to coordinate their search efforts.
The Arctic Sea set off from Finland under the Maltese flag on July 23, carrying a large load of timber, and was due to arrive at the Algerian port of Bejaia on August 4.
Some media reports said contact was lost with the ship on July 28, after masked men claiming to be police briefly seized the vessel in the Baltic Sea on July 24 tying the crew up and searching the vessel. A sailor was quoted by the media as saying the men left the ship after about 12 hours, and the Arctic Sea resumed its voyage.
However, suspicions are growing that the crew member could have been threatened and that the ship was in fact hijacked.
One of the most recent unconfirmed reports said a ship, bearing resemblance to the missing Arctic Sea vessel, has arrived in the Spanish port of San Sebastian.
"I have received an SMS, saying that an unnamed vessel arrived in the Spanish port of San Sebastian yesterday. The vessel is 98 meters long, which corresponds to the length of the Arctic Sea dry cargo vessel," said Mikhail Voitenko, editor of Maritime Bulletin Sovfracht.
Voitenko also said only Russia had so far taken concrete measures to find the missing ship and the only possibility to locate the vessel was to use satellite reconnaissance data.
"Using satellites is the only real hope to succeed in the search," he said.
Meanwhile, relatives of the missing crew have called on Russian authorities to open a criminal probe into the disappearance of Russian citizens aboard the Arctic Sea vessel.