Temporarily Out of Fashion: Somalian Piracy. Temporarily In Fashion: Viking Piracy.

I realized this morning, to my intense disappoint, that International Talk Like a Pirate Day was yesterday, and I completely missed it. This won’t happen again, I’ve already programmed it into my phone so there’s no chance of me missing it next year. But to make up for my laxness, I’m declaring today International Pirate Blogging Day and celebrating that by giving an update on the somewhat under-reported story of the Arctic Sea. The Arctic Sea was captured by pirates last July before going MIA on an ocean voyage from Sweden to Africa, and the theories surrounding the whole incident sound suspiciously like the plot of Dan Brown novel.

The (roughly known) facts: The Arctic Sea is a Maltese-flagged ship, owned by a Finnish company, which is in turn owned and run by a Russian citizen living in Finland. which when the hijacking occurred had left port from Finland bound for Algeria, with a cargo of timber (owned by a separate company also controlled by the same Russian citizen who owned the ship) worth $1.7 million on board. Around July 24, the Arctic Sea was then captured off the coast of the lawless, warlord controlled territory of Sweden, but this was not reported publicly. Contact was lost with the ship around July 31, during which time the ship chugged down through the English Channel, around the Iberian peninsula, and then remained missing for a number of weeks. On August 17th, Russia successfully recaptured the ship off the coast of Africa near the island nation of Cape Verde. There were no reported injuries. The eight (ten?) hijackers are apparently ethnic Russians, who speak English, and are either stateless or hold passports to Russia, Latvia or Estonia. As an additional point of confusion, when captured off of Africa the ship’s captain “unexpectedly claimed” to be the North Korean ship Congdin 2, en route from Cuba to Sierra Leone — but as far as I can gather, essentially no one has any idea what the hell that was all about.

Russia announced it would be taking the ship back to a Russian port. Instead, the ship next turned up at the Canary Islands, where it remains in limbo as Spain continues to refuse entry to the Arctic Sea. Malta, where the ship is flagged, has been involved in the negotiations but apparently wants to wash its hands of the whole thing. Russia is less than pleased, and announced that:

“The decision of the Maltese authorities has puzzled the Russian Investigative Committee. Moreover, it contradicts international maritime law. The Maltese action makes the ship docking in the Spanish port of Las Palmas problematic. This also creates problems for the ship’s crew because they are running out of fuel and drinking water[.]”

Far as I can make out, the ship’s still bobbing about in the waters off of Las Palmas, but transfer of the ship to the original owners is being organized. Meanwhile, all the pirates are back in Russia and are currently facing prosecution.

The conspiracy theories: There are dozens of theories out there, but the major claim being made seems to be this whole deal was really about “Russian mobsters selling missiles and/or air defense shields to Iran.” The most convoluted of these tales involve Israel’s Mossad being responsible for the diversion of the ship’s trip to Iran:

Another theory is that Mossad concocted the alleged hijacking by setting up a criminal gang, who were unlikely to have known anything about a secret cargo, instead blocking the route to Iran by the mounting media interest.

“Once the news of the hijack broke, the game was up for the arms dealers. The Russians had to act,” said a former Russian army officer. “That’s why I don’t rule out Mossad being behind the hijacking. It stopped the shipment and gave the Kremlin a way out so that it can now claim it mounted a brilliant rescue mission.”

One serious problem for fans of this theory: Why the heck would Israel entrust the recapture of an arms smuggling ship to a bunch of drug addicted bar brawlers? (Additional note to the hijackers: Fire your lawyers. No one believes y’all were members of a stranded environmentalist group trying to “document environmental abuses.” If that’s the best cover story you’ve got, you’re in big trouble.)

And while it seems like something fishy was going on, given the extreme shortage of reliable reporting out there, its hard to tell right now if it’s anything more sinister than a bunch of deluded Russians becoming the Keystone Kops of the piracy world. Because this was the most incredibly awkward ship hijacking the world has seen since Blackbeard was a teenager. The only thing clear about this whole mess is that the pirates were basically a bunch of dogs chasing a car, and they had no idea what to do with the ship once they actually captured it. So they just decided to cruise it down to Cape Verde for the heck of it.

However, combined with recent diplomatic trips by Israel’s president to Russia to discuss Iranian relations the day after the Arctic Sea was found, as well as the cancellation of the U.S. missile shield plans in Poland and the Czech Republic, there’s enough fodder there for the conspiracy theorists to last them for months.


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