EU Official: Israel Likely Hijacked Mideast-Bound Ship


hijacked-shipIsrael was likely behind the hijacking in July of an Russian-manned ship en route to Algeria, the European Union’s rapporteur on piracy has told TIME. Admiral Tarmo Kouts was quoted as saying Israel probably intercepted the vessel, the Arctic Sea, as it carried a secret cargo of weapons to the Middle East.

“There is the idea that there were missiles aboard, and one can’t explain this situation in any other way,” he told the weekly news magazine, in an interview published Monday. “As a sailor with years of experience, I can tell you that the official versions are not realistic.”

This theory, which Russian analysts put forward in the days after the Arctic Sea was rescued, TIME reported, has been vehemently denied by Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, who was quoted as saying Kouts should stop “running his mouth.”

According to the magazine, Russia’s official explanation for the incident is that the ship set sail from Finland under a Maltese flag on July 22. It was bound for Algeria and carried less than $2 million worth of timber. Then a group of eight Russian and former Soviet hijackers boarded the ship on July 24.

The ship’s tracking device was disabled in the last days of the month, as it passed through the English Channel into the Atlantic, and the ship disappeared, TIME reported. On Aug. 12, the Russian navy sent out a search party. A week later, Russia declared that the ship and its crew had been rescued.

But TIME says this version of events is undermined by the fact that the ship issued no distress signal and a surprise visit to Russia by President Shimon Peres pay a day after the ship was rescued.

The article came amid reports of redoubled Israeli efforts to halt arms smuggling to its enemies in the Middle East, especially to Iran and its Palestinan proxy, Hamas.

In April, the Egyptian newspaper El-Aosboa reported that an Iranian vessel laden with weapons bound for the Gaza Strip was torpedoed off the coast of Sudan, allegedly by Israeli or American forces operating in the area.

{Haaretz/Yair Israel}