BRUSSELS, August 17 (RIA Novosti) - Speculation is growing that the Russian-crewed Arctic Sea, missing since late July, has been seized by pirates as the Finnish owners received a ransom demand, Belgium's RTBF television said on Monday.
The Maltese-flagged cargo ship left Finland with a cargo of timber on July 22 en route for Algeria. The ship last made radio contact with British coastguards on July 28. Finnish police confirmed that a $1.5 million ransom demand had been issued.
"There has been increasingly more thought about the presence of hostage-takers onboard," the TV channel said.
Interpol said earlier the ship was briefly seized in Swedish waters of the Baltic Sea by masked men, claiming to be police on July 24. Reports state that after 12 hours the men left the ship and the Arctic Sea resumed its voyage.
Meanwhile, Finland dismissed media speculation on Sunday that the ship was carrying a nuclear cargo, the head of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority said.
Russia's Dmitry Medvedev last week instructed the country's Navy to launch a search for the missing ship.
Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said on Sunday the joint search for the vessel involving the alliance was "in full swing."
The tracking device aboard the Arctic Sea was briefly reactivated earlier on Saturday showing the vessel to be located in the Atlantic's Bay of Biscay near France's La Rochelle port, according to Sovfrakht, a Russian maritime journal.
Nick Davis, a maritime expert, was cited by Britain's Daily Mirror paper as saying the Arctic Sea was likely to be off the West African coast, "If it's a bona fide ransom demand, the vessel is at a safe destination where the hijackers feel cash can be extorted."