This is a long and complicated tale, easily the subject of a book. Many conspiracy theories have sprung up around the Arctic Sea Affair, so I’ll give you the information I consider most likely factual in a dry and concise summary of events.
The cargo ship, The Arctic Sea, had been in Kaliningrad, Russia, for several weeks, undergoing repairs, and according to one witness, those repairs included changes to the bulkhead, where contraband could be stored. The ship was owned by Solchart Management. Viktor Matvejev, a Russian citizen living in Finland, was the primary owner and CEO of Solchart. The other shares owned by two other Russians residing in Finland. Solchart Archangelsk was established in October of 2008. Plans were made for the departure of The Arctic Sea in early 2009, but for reasons undisclosed, they had to wait for permission from the Russian navy to do so.
The Arctic Sea docked in the Finnish port of Pietarsaari. It was inspected first by Russian customs officials before embarking and inspected again when received by Finnish customs officials. The stories of this inspection changed over time. It was claimed that the Arctic Sea was screened for radiation before leaving Finland, but according to laboratory director for Finland’s Security Technology Laboratory (Finland’s nuclear watchdog), Haari Toivonen, “At no stage was any radiation measurement done.”
But then the story changed. The ship had been tested for radiation, but unfortunately, the paperwork and results had been lost. Still, Finland denied the possibility that the Arctic Sea carried nuclear material. Finally, Jukka Laaksonen, head of the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, admitted radiation tests had been conducted before the ship began its voyage, but dismissed reports in British and Finnish newspapers that the ship could be carrying a nuclear cargo as “stupid rumors.” Laaksonen stated that the radioactivity test in Pietarsaari took place without cause He said, “Some fireman for some reason thought that there might be some radioactivity involved in this shipment and that was a very stupid idea. There was no basis for that.”
Manned by a Russian crew, The Arctic Sea departed on July 21, 2009, en route from Finland to Algeria, with a load of timber valued at 1.3 million euros. On July 24 at 3 a.m., the ship was allegedly boarded by hijackers off the coast of Sweden. The incident was not immediately reported, and contact with the ship was apparently lost on, or after, July 30. If indeed the incident was a hijacking, it may be the first case of piracy in European waters since the 17th century.
Doubts resulting from inconsistencies in the story and a veil of secrecy Russia has cast over the event, have been raised over whether it was truly a hijacking, and of the nature of the ship’s cargo. This has become a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true. Was the contraband: biological weaponry—The Arctic Sea had been in Kaliningrad, where such materials are stored; materials for use in chemical warfare; bound for Syria, and if so, were they loaded on board in Russia or Finland; anti-aircraft missiles; four MiG-31 jetfighter hulls for Syria that had been ordered from and promised by Russia in 2007, and hidden in a secret compartment in the hull; S-300 or Kh-55 missiles bound for Iran, and that the hijackers were Mossad agents preventing delivery; or maybe 200kT warheads for the Kh-55s Iran already possesses? The list is long.
They are valid reasons for these conjectures. How could it be that news of the hijacking of a Finnish freight vessel doesn’t come out until four days after the event? How is it possible for the hijacked ship to sail in European seas without European Union or NATO action, even though they take go to great lengths to hunt for pirates off the coast of Somalia? The Arctic Sea was located near Cape Verde, some 2,000 miles from its intended port, on August 14. On August 17, it was seized by the Russian Navy.. Was the ship attacked near Sweden as reported? Why were the hijackers speaking English, although they reported to be mostly Estonians. Why didn’t owner Karpenkov insist that the ship proceed to the nearest port after the hijacking that took place in Swedish waters?
The Finnish government claimed it wasn’t informed of the hijacking until four days after the event. Risto Volanen, who served as Secretary of State to the government of then-Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen stated. “The police did not inform the country’s leaders about the incident because it is not legally required to do so.” I must ask, so? An act of piracy in the Baltic Sea is a multi-national political crisis. Volanen didn’t think it worth mentioning?
It was claimed that all tracking devices and communications equipment were destroyed, hence the inability to locate the vessel. Yet when it suited the hijackers to communicate with Swedish National Police, all was well again. A blatant lie. When Russia retrieved the crew, it sent three jumbo-sized cargo aircraft to take them to safety. Upon returning to Russia, crew and hijackers alike were taken to Lefortovo Prison, a detention center reserved for those involved in matters political. The crew is now free but under a gag order to not reveal state secrets. Violation carries a seven year prison term.
Finnish and Swedish investigators started jointly investigating the case early on, as is their territorial right. According to officials—after so many lies, who can guess what is true—requests to interview the hijackers and crew have been denied, and despite requesting one, The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation has never received an explanation of why the crew was being held, and if they were suspected of any wrongdoing. In effect, Finland and Sweden have been told to shut up and go away. They did what they were told, although crimes of the highest order have clearly been committed on Finnish soil and in Finnish waters. Finnish officials have blatantly lied to the public and failed to do their duties on the orders of Brother Bear.
Boys and girls, can you say cover-up?
With his first internationally published novel, Snow Angels, James Thompson proved himself Finland’s best and most popular representative in the rise of Nordic noir. It was selected as one of Booklist’ s Best Crime Novel Debuts of the Year and nominated for an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and a Strand Critics Award. His novel, Lucifer’s Tears, has received critical acclaim from all quarters, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and was selected as one of the best novels of the year by Kirkus. His novel, Helsinki White, was released to critical acclaim in the U.S. in March, 2012. He is also a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books. The first three books in his Inspector Vaara series have been optioned for film.