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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wives Seek Return Of Arctic Sea Sailors

The wives of four sailors who have lived on the Arctic Sea for the past two months have appealed for their return to Russia after Spanish authorities refused to let the cargo ship dock for a handover to its owners.

The wives said in an open letter late last week that they have not had any contact with their husbands, including the ship’s captain, since Sept. 18 and were worried about their health.

“We four desperate women and our children are appealing to all organizations designed to defend human rights to help our families return our innocent husbands,” said the letter, published Friday on Odin.tc, the web site of maritime expert Mikhail Voitenko.

The Arkhangelsk-based wives said they had learned during brief phone conversations earlier that their spouses were in poor health and needed a doctor.

They said the crew members could not just leave the ship because they did not have passports, and a new crew has been formed in Arkhangelsk and was ready to replace them at any time.

“The situation is in a deadlock,” the women wrote.

The letter represents a rare public statement from the families of the sailors caught up in the mystery surrounding the Arctic Sea, which disappeared for three weeks last summer while carrying a cargo of timber from Finland to Algeria.

Voitenko, whose web site posted the letter, was the first to point out inconsistencies in the authorities’ account of the ship’s saga, and he fled Russia this month after receiving threats. He has said the ship probably was carrying a secret cargo in addition to the timber.

Russian authorities have denied any secret cargo, including media reports that the Arctic Sea was carrying missiles for Iran, and said the ship was seized by eight hijackers, who are now in custody in Moscow.

The Arctic Sea has been in the hands of the Russian Navy since mid-August, when the Navy boarded it off western Africa.

The Navy frigate, the Ladny, escorted the ship toward the Canary Islands for a handover to its owners, but Spanish authorities refused to let it dock for the exchange. “Russia requested from Spanish authorities a technical stop in Las Palmas. Spain denied this request,” a spokesman for the Spanish Embassy in Moscow told The Moscow Times on Friday.

The spokesman, who requested anonymity, would not say why the ship was refused entry.

The ship’s owner, the Finnish-registered shipping company Solchart Ltd., said Spain had objected to the presence of armed foreign military personnel on board. The “vessel is in custody of Russian Navy units. … We do not consider the Arctic Sea like a merchant vessel but like a floating object taken by [a] foreign navy,” Canary Island authorities said in a statement posted on Solchart’s web site.

Solchart CEO Viktor Matveyev said the planned handover had failed for no obvious reason and accused the Investigative Committee of stealing the ship and its timber. “Russia has stolen the ship from us and stolen the cargo from the timber industry. And now they are towing it again to nowhere,” he said in comments posted Friday on Tradewinds.no, a shipping news service.

He said the ship was heading northward from the Canary Islands.

Matveyev said he had received a “laughable” response from the Investigative Committee about why it continued to occupy the ship. “They told me they are there to secure the ship again from further hijackings from Spain and Africa,” he said.

He said earlier that the subsidiary of his company that directly owns the Arctic Sea had gone bankrupt.

Meanwhile Malta, under whose flag the Arctic Sea is registered, warned that the ship needed inspections before it could be allowed to sail further. The owner has been instructed “that the ship cannot proceed to sea until any necessary repairs, surveys and certification are carried out and it is ensured that the ship is in a seaworthy condition,” the Malta Maritime Authority said in a statement on its web site.

Eleven other crew members from the Arctic Sea have been allowed to return home to Arkhangelsk.