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Last 4 Arctic Sea crewmembers return home


ARKHANGELSK (Russia), November 2 (RIA Novosti) - Four sailors, who remained on board the Arctic Sea cargo vessel after a mysterious hijacking case, returned on Monday to their home base in northern Russia.

The other 11 Russian crewmen have already been sent home. They were held for several weeks for questioning by Russian authorities and were subsequently released, reportedly after being sworn to secrecy.

"I am happy to be back home," the captain of the ship, Sergei Zaretsky, told reporters in Arkhangelsk.

He criticized the media for controversial and biased coverage of the Arctic Sea incident, insisting that the ship carried a shipment of timber rather than an allegedly illegal cargo.

The Arctic Sea disappeared in the Atlantic on July 24 while carrying a $2 million shipment of timber from Finland to Algeria and was intercepted by the Russian Navy off West Africa on August 17, when eight alleged hijackers were arrested.

The ship had been anchored to the east of Gibraltar for weeks and guarded by two Russian vessels as Algeria, the vessel's original destination, denied the vessel entry. It was then towed to Malta.

On Thursday, the Arctic Sea was handed over to Maltese authorities. The ship was given permission to enter the port following a thorough inspection by Maltese officials.

The head of Finnish company Solchart, the ship's operator, said the inspection showed the Arctic Sea was not carrying any illegal cargo.

A new crew of 14 sailors flew from Russia to Malta on Wednesday to replace the captain and three sailors who had remained on the vessel.

The ship's disappearance, which triggered a major international search effort, raised suspicions about it carrying a "secret cargo" of drugs or weapons. Russian authorities have denied the rumors, saying the vessel was hijacked by criminals who demanded a ransom.

Russia's special investigations committee announced last Friday that all 14 crewmembers of the Arctic Sea had been formally recognized as victims of a pirate attack.


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