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Speculation on what might have happened has ranged from theories that it might have been carrying secret cargo to the possibility that it fell victim to an almost unheard of case of sea banditry in European waters.
The ship had reported being attacked July 24 off the Swedish island of Oland. It said a group of 10 masked men had boarded, tied up the crew and beat them before leaving 12 hours later in a high-speed inflatable boat, Swedish police
"If this is a criminal act, it appears to be following a new business model," Marine intelligence expert Graeme Gibbon-Brooks told Sky News on Wednesday.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered that "all necessary measures" be taken to find the missing ship, and the Russian navy turned all of its vessels in the Atlantic - including three landing ships, a frigate and two nuclear-powered submarines - to search.
The ship offered what appeared to be a routine report - identifying itself and its cargo, and saying where it had come from and where it was going, said Mark Clark of Britain's Maritime andCoastguard Agency.
He said the agency is "extremely curious" about what happened to the ship. "There is no coastguard I know who can remember anything like this happening," Clark said.
The Ladny, the Navy frigate leading the Russian search, was chasing a ship resembling the Arctic Sea in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and North Africa, Mikhail Voitenko, an expert on piracy and the editor of the SovFracht Maritime Bulletin, wrote on his web site late Thursday afternoon, citing a Defense Ministry source.
The Defense Ministry later dismissed the report, and a Navy spokesman told Interfax that “the information is based on the personal opinions of non-official people and doesn’t correspond to reality.”
“The longer it goes on, the more it looks like some sort of dispute between Russian interests,” David Osler, who writes on maritime safety for the Lloyds List newspaper, told the BBC.
The relatives of the crew members on Wednesday published an open letter to the Russian government asking it to start a full-scale search and rescue operation and to ask Western European countries to participate.