Russian court jails Arctic Sea hijackers


A Russian court yesterday sentenced six people to prison for their role in a pirate attack on the Maltese-flagged Arctic Sea in July 2009. The sentences range from seven to twelve years in prison.

The Russian-crewed Arctic Sea disappeared in the English Channel on July 24, 2009, Ria Novosti reports, whilst on its way from Finland to Algeria with US$2 million worth of timber on board. The Russian Navy found the vessel in the Cape Verde islands off West Africa on August 17 and arrested eight people. Investigators said the ship had been seized by masked pirates near the coast of Sweden. Only the listed cargo of timber was found on board when the vessel was seized.

The disappearance of the Arctic Sea triggered a massive international search effort as well as speculation that the vessel was carrying drugs or weapons, Ria reports. However, Russian authorities denied the rumours and said the ship was hijacked by criminals looking for a ransom.

Russia’s special investigations committee announced last year that the crewmembers had been formally recognized as victims of a pirate attack.

Defence lawyer Oksana Grushetskaya criticised the court’s decision yesterday. “We disagree with the court’s decision and believe that the defendants’ actions should be qualified as ‘hijacking,’ not ‘piracy,'” she told journalists. “We also consider the punishment too harsh and will file an appeal.”

Prosecutor Dmitry Smirnov has said he believed the sentence was fair, adding, however, that the court could have shown leniency towards Alexei Bulev, who has pleaded guilty and is seriously ill. Bulev has been sentenced to ten years behind bars for participating in the attack, Ria Novosti reports.

The other two pirates, Andrei Lunev and Latvian national Dmitry Savins, who also pleaded guilty, were sentenced to five and seven years in a high-security prison in May and June 2010, respectively. Savin, who has admitted that he led the attack, took part in Thursday’s trial as a witness.