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August 21, 2009

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Cargo ship hijackers questioned in Moscow

RUSSIAN authorities flew the suspected hijackers of the cargo vessel Arctic Sea to Moscow yesterday and took them for interrogation, dismissing suggestions that the ship may have been carrying weapons.

The Russian Navy tracked the ship into the Atlantic after what Moscow has termed an act of piracy and boarded it off the Cape Verde islands early on Monday, freeing the 15 Russian crewmen.

The mass of conflicting details in a saga that began with the ship's apparent disappearance last month have sparked speculation that it may have been targeted because it was carrying a secret cargo of arms or even nuclear materials.

The suspected pirates - nationals of Estonia, Latvia and Russia - were flown to Chkalovsky military airfield from Cape Verde aboard an Ilyushin-76 aircraft, then whisked off to the Lefortovo high-security prison.

"The eight men ... have been handed over to the Prosecutor-General's main investigative unit," Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told President Dmitry Medvedev, according to a Kremlin spokeswoman.

Two more aircraft also flew investigators and 11 of the 15-man crew to Moscow.

Four crew members, including the captain, remained on the ship, which Serdyukov said would be towed to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk for "further investigative measures."

Russia said the Arctic Sea was hijacked on July 24 off the coast of Sweden by eight armed men, who forced the crew to sail for Africa with its positioning systems switched off.

The hijackers - who Russian investigators said were wearing black police uniforms - then threatened to blow up the ship if their ransom demands were not met, the Defense Ministry said.


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