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Russia says Arctic Sea ship to be released, no secret cargo found

RIA Novosti

20:08 01/10/2009 MOSCOW, October 1 (RIA Novosti) - Inspections of the Arctic Sea ship, which was held captive for several weeks during the summer, have not revealed suspicious cargo, and the vessel will soon be released, Russia's Foreign Ministry has said.

The Finnish-owned, Maltese-flagged ship manned by a Russia crew, listed as carrying lumber from Russia to Algeria, was reportedly boarded by a group of eight men on July 24. Officials later said it had disappeared in the Atlantic. It was freed off Cape Verde on August 16 by a Russian warship.

The ship has been the focus of media speculation, with some reports speculating it was carrying Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran or Syria. Moscow has denied the reports.

Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Thursday: "We are taking all necessary measures to return the vessel to its owner, and to provide support to conclude its commercial delivery in line with the sea freight contract."

However, he said the vessel was slightly damaged as a result of its capture.

"Some navigation equipment was put out of action. Repairs must be carried out. This damage does not influence the safety of towing the Arctic Sea," he said.

Nesterenko added Russia is maintaining contact on the issue with all parties concerned.

An investigation commission was searching the Arctic Sea ship on September 7-19. Last week, investigators said they had not found any compromising cargo on board.

According to the most recent reports, the vessel, with the captain and three crew members on board, is now heading to the Mediterranean Sea, being convoyed by Russia's Ladny frigate. The frigate will provide security for the Arctic Sea until it is handed over to its owners.

The Arctic Sea was originally expected to dock at the port of Las Palmas, the capital of Spain's Canary Islands, to be handed over to Malta on September 18. However, the Maltese authorities unexpectedly refused to take part in the handover of the ship, and the vessel remained anchored 25 kilometers offshore.

Last week, a source at the Las Palmas port told RIA Novosti that the Arctic Sea vessel and the Ladny frigate, which earlier freed the ship, had left the Canary Islands, where they spent more than two weeks waiting for authorization to dock at Las Palmas.

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