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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Russia said Wednesday it is hunting for a cargo ship which vanished after being involved in what appears to be an unprecedented incident of piracy in European waters.
The Russian-crewed Arctic Sea, carrying a 6,500-ton cargo of timber from Finland to Algeria, was last heard of two weeks ago when it passed through the English Channel, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
Moscow's Presidential Press service told CNN that Russian naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and "space-based" detection systems were searching for the missing boat after its failed to make its destination as expected on August 4.
President Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the country's Defense Minister Anatoly Serduykov to "take all necessary measures to locate, monitor and, if necessary, to free the missing vessel," a statement said.
The Arctic Sea is believed to have been briefly hijacked off Sweden shortly after it began its journey. Swedish police said they were investigating the incident but the boat had continued on its way, vanishing after passing the English Channel.
Mark Clark of the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the ship crewed by 15 Russians made radio contact on July 28, but reported nothing untoward.
He said the agency was belatedly asked by Interpol on August 3 to look out for the Ar
Russian navy joins hunt for ship
Up to five vessels - reported to include nuclear submarines - will be involved in the search for the Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea, the navy confirmed.
It has a 15-strong Russian crew and was reportedly taking timber worth $1.5m (£900,000) from Finland to Algeria when it was boarded by gunmen on 24 July.
The Arctic Sea was last sighted off the north coast of France on 30 July.
British authorities say the 4,000-tonne vessel may have been spotted subsequently by a Portuguese coastal patrol aircraft, but its current location remains unknown.
"All the information-intelligence systems of our armed forces, including the space-borne systems, the system of identification of sea vessels and others, have been calibrated to look for the missing ship," he said.
Operations will be centred on the patrol ship Ladny, a guided missile frigate which is part of Russia's Black Sea fleet.
UK authorities, which made contact with the Arctic Sea before it entered the busy shipping waters of the English channel, described the situation as "bizarre".
"Who would think that a hijacked ship could pass through one of the most policed and concentrated waters in the world