Is Russia setting the stage for a nuclear apocalypse?

“I can’t say anything about the roots of this story and I don’t plan to dig further… I need to think about my own skin too. Understand that as you will.” -Mikhail Voitenko, editor of the Russian maritime Bulletin Sovfrakht., speaking about the “hijacking” of the Arctic Sea

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director, & Sean Osborne, Military Affairs Specialist

24 August 2009: While it might seem like an unusual morphing of the movies Inside Man and The Hunt for Red October, the account of the cargo ship Arctic Sea is far stranger than either fictional account. Based on information developed through our extensive investigation, we can authoritatively state, without hyperbole, that the mysteries surrounding the MV Arctic Sea are as deep as the Atlantic waters where it navigated and its “alleged” secret cargo as potentially dangerous to an unsuspecting, distracted populace as the coastal rip tides produced by a late summer hurricane.

Imagine a 4,000 ton, 100 meter commercial cargo ship, manned by a crew of 15, equipped with an automatic identification system (AIS), a satellite navigation beacon, and state of the art communication equipment, including satellite phones and the cellular telephones of the crew, laden with $1.2 - $1.8 million of cut lumber and manned by a crew of 15, suddenly and inexplicably “disappearing completely off the grid” for two weeks - allegedly at the hands of eight-(8) hijackers or “pirates.” Now, imagine the pirate attack of this low value target taking place in a busy transit area that has not seen an act of piracy since the 17th century.

That’s what reportedly transpired with the Arctic Sea, a Russian managed commercial cargo ship sailing under a Maltese flag and owned by the Finnish company Arctic Sea Ltd. The Russian management is from a sister company based in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk that reportedly provides “technical support” to the company and its sole vessel.  Arkhangelsk is also the home of the 15 man crew of the Arctic Sea.

Now imagine a search for the missing vessel launched by numerous assets from the Russian Black Sea fleet in conjunction with NATO, the use of satellites and other forms of surveillance, and a “rescue mission” that ultimately secured the ship, rescued its crew and captured the alleged hijackers or pirates. Except this was no ordinary rescue of the crew and arrest of the hijackers. Some of the crew and all of the hijackers, including one who was later identified as a fisherman who supposedly died three years ago, were transported together by the Russians to a high security Moscow prison where they are being held incommunicado.

Next, imagine an investigation of the incident that has involved law enforcement from 20 countries, 3 intelligence agencies, and British nuclear response team - so far, all of which has been conducted under an unprecedented level of secrecy. Added to that shroud of secrecy are various bits of disinformation - news articles - that have been intentionally seeded to a non-inquiring media through Russian and other diplomatic sources.

Now finally, imagine the majority of those of us in the West having never even heard of this hijacking, the hijacked ship, its recovery, the rescue of crew and the “arrest” of the hijackers. The latter, of course is easier to imagine. The media minimalism can be attributed to a combination of government secrecy and a shortage of journalists willing to investigate an incident that has national and international security implications, rather than the more salacious and better selling celebrity debauchery.

The security implications pertaining to this incident are indeed ominous as they appear to directly relate to either a clandestine program of arming an enemy of the United States and Israel with nuclear weaponry or something far more sinister and conspiratorial.  While the final chapter of this intriguing tale of high-stakes international nuclear smuggling has yet to be written, one thing has already been established: a global end-game scenario is being constructed while most of the world sleeps.

The adventures of the MV Arctic Sea

It began in June, when the Arctic Sea underwent about two-weeks of “repairs” at the Pregol shipyard in Kaliningrad, which is a Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania. It is the base of the Russian Baltic Fleet and a notorious area for smuggling of everything from drugs to weapons.  According to intelligence reports following the alleged disappearance of the vessel - reports independently confirmed by this author through direct inquiries with U.S. and Israeli intelligence sources, the “repairs” were not repairs at all, but a very extensive project that involved completely dismantling and rebuilding the ship’s bulkhead to special military-like specifications. This was done to accommodate what was described by these intelligence officials as “very expensive and very deadly” cargo.

Following the extensive renovation of the vessel, the Arctic Sea is anchored in Pietarsaari, on the West Coast of Finland to pick up its cargo of sawn timber that is reportedly destined for Algeria. The value of the cargo of timber is reported to be between $1.2 and $1.8 million.

On July 23, 2009, the Arctic Sea, flying the Maltese Flag, departed Pietarsaari with a crew of 15. It is scheduled to arrive at the port of Bejaia, Algeria on August 4, 2009. The ship reportedly has food supplies for a 45-day voyage and enough fuel for 40 days of cruising at sea.

Within 24 hours of its departure, the vessel is reportedly boarded by force in the early morning hours of July 24 near the Swedish island of Gotland.  According to various sources, including some open source news reports, the crew was held, beaten and interrogated for 12 hours by eight-(8) armed attackers.  Some reports suggest that the masked attackers posed as Swedish drug police who spoke English with an unidentified accent.  Other reports indicate that the alleged hijackers, who approached the vessel in an inflatable style boat, did so under the pretext of distress aboard their boat.

What exactly happened aboard the Arctic Sea at this point remains unclear, as both public and private sources offer somewhat differing accounts. Some sources indicate that there were as many as 12 hijackers, with perhaps four leaving the Arctic Sea in the inflatable assault craft. Other sources, including some post-event news accounts, reported that all of these particular the attackers left the Arctic Sea within 12 hours of their initial attack. Based on our independent research, the latter account appears questionable at best.

What is consistent, however, are reports that the vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) was turned off by someone aboard the vessel. A ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an interactive transponder that provides detailed information about the ship, somewhat similar to the “black box” of an aircraft by comparison.

The fact that the AIS system was switched off is critical to this event. Accounts of the ship’s AIS also comes into play later when sources indicate that is was actually removed from the vessel altogether. While some might contend that disabling this device is not impossible, all agree that it takes quite a bit of knowledge to do so. Removing it and making it functional on another ship requires even more specialized knowledge and ability. Simultaneously, the signal from the Arctic Sea’s satellite navigation beacon disappeared.  It is the unanimous opinion of all intelligence sources that only those having very specialized knowledge are capable of incapacitating this beacon.

In any case, news of the incident of alleged “piracy” or “hijacking” and of the ship’s disappearance from the grid would remain a virtual secret for the next 4-5 days. Even more curiously, on July 28, four days after the boarding of the hostiles, the Arctic Sea reportedly made routine contact with the Dover Coastguard as it entered the English Channel.

It appears that the next odd transmission by the Arctic Sea set off alarm bells” of certain British maritime officials. According to both published and private sources, a short time after making the contact with Dover, the Arctic Sea reported the armed boarding of their vessel by the alleged Swedish drug police to the Helsinki police authorities, telling the Helsinki officials that everything was fine and they would follow-up with them after completing their journey.

The alleged boarding of the Arctic Sea by fake Swedish drug police, the subsequent and very delayed reporting of that event and that the crew was fine despite the extended detention and beatings, the disabling of the ship’s AIS, and altogether inconsistent reports from and about the ship sent up “red flags” that something was definitely awry aboard the Arctic Sea.

Suddenly, on July 30, 2009, a brief AIS signal was received from the Arctic Sea. At 1:29 AM Greenwich Mean Time, it was as if someone activated the AIS, only to have it turned off again minutes later. At this point, the ship basically “vanished” from the grid. The signal from the AIS placed the Arctic Sea between southwest England and France at that time.

Although there were no further electronic signals from the Arctic Sea, European maritime officials reported receiving radio calls from the Arctic Sea alleging yet a second attack against the ship off the Portuguese coast between July 31 and August 2, 2009. Intelligence sources interviewed by this author verified the allegation but openly questioned their veracity.

The following day, the company that insures the vessel allegedly received a ransom demand. Vladimir Dushin, vice-president of Renaissance Insurance, alleges that the company was contacted by telephone by an English-speaking caller who demanded $1.5 million or the crew of the Arctic Sea would be shot and the ship sunk.  It was at this point that Interpol issued their initial hijacking alert for the Arctic Sea.

On August 4, 2009, the Arctic Sea failed to arrive at Bejaia as scheduled.

It was not until August 12, 2009, and only after public pressure by the families of the crew that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Russian navy deployed in the Atlantic to locate the vessel and orders the military to take “all necessary measures” to recover the ship and its crew. On August 14, 2009, with many searching for the missing vessel, the Arctic Sea is reportedly sighted 500 miles off the Cape Verde Islands, west of Africa, according to French defense officials.

The next day, transmissions from the Arctic Sea’s AIS placed the ship in the Bay of Biscay. Despite the AIS “signature” marking its location, France announced that there was no cargo ship in the area. Interestingly and perhaps quite significantly, it was announced that the signal was coming from one of the three Russian Navy ships in that area.

On August 15, 2009, a joint Russia-NATO operation is officially launched to track and locate the Arctic Sea. It is at this point that reports begin to circulate among maritime and intelligence officials that this might not be a hijacking after all, and that the ship could be carrying some type of “special” cargo. Certain maritime security professionals, who have been following this incident closely, suggest that the Arctic Sea could be involved in the transporting of nuclear materials. These reports are immediately dismissed by Finnish authorities and other diplomatic officials.

The Arctic Sea is Located

On Monday, August 17, 2009, (2200 BST August 16), nearly 2 weeks after it was scheduled to arrive in Algeria, the Arctic Sea was located 300 nautical miles off the coast of Cape Verde by the Russian navy frigate Ladny. According to official reports, the eight unarmed hijackers were found aboard the ship along with all of the crew. While published reports of the naval rescue suggest that the hijackers threw their weapons overboard as the Russians approached, intelligence sources have indicated that there is nothing to indicate that the alleged hijackers were armed. Additionally, no evidence was found to suggest that the crew of the Arctic Sea was beaten as initially reported.

The following public statements made at a news conference and reported in Russia Today by Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of the online Maritime Bulletin-Sovfracht on August 17, 2009 therefore appear to make sense when considered through the maze of details surrounding the disappearance and “recovery” of the Arctic Sea:

“The fact is that it was not a criminal assault, it was not an act of piracy, and what exactly it was we don’t know.  The vessel had all the necessary modern means of communication and emergency alarms, and was located in waters where regular mobile telephones work. To hijack the vessel so that no one makes a peep - not one alarm goes off - can you imagine how that could be? I can’t.”

Voitenko, whose company Sovfracht specializes in anti-piracy security consulting, also said the hijacking was beyond the means of ordinary pirates.

“The operation cost more than the cargo and ship combined.”

Declining to elaborate any further, Voitenko suggested that the ship’s cargo might not be drugs or arms, “but something much more expensive and dangerous.” He added:

“It seems some third party didn’t want this transit to be fulfilled so they made this situation highly sophisticated and very complicated.”

So, what exactly was on the MV Arctic Sea, what was the intended destination of that secret cargo, and where is it now? Our intelligence sources from the U.S. to the UK and Israel have provided critical and unsettling insight into these questions. Their answers paint a very disturbing picture of state-sanctioned nuclear arms smuggling that will likely set the stage for an apocalyptic, end-game scenario ripped directly from the Book of Revelation.  The consequences of such a scenario, allowed to continue without interdiction or exposure, could forever change the balance of power, if not the actual global geographical landscape itself.

Part II will be published tomorrow.

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Reference: Arctic Sea Events Timeline

June 2009: The Arctic Sea undergoes repairs at the Pregol shipyard in Kaliningrad, which is a Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania. It is the base of the Russian Baltic Fleet and a notorious area for smuggling of everything from drugs to weapons.  According to intelligence reports following the alleged disappearance of the vessel, the “repairs” were not repairs at all, but an extensive project that involved completely dismantling the ship’s bulkhead to accommodate some type of additional “special” cargo.

20 July 2009: The vessel is anchored in Pietarsaari on the West Coast of Finland to pick up its cargo of sawn timber worth $1.8 million.

23 July 2009: The Arctic Sea, flying the Maltese Flag, leaves Pietarsaari with a crew of 15 for the port of Bejaia in Algeria with a projected arrival date of August 4, 2009. The ship has food supplies for a 45-day voyage and enough fuel for 40 days of cruising.

24 July 2009: According to a number of various sources, the vessel is forcibly boarded in the early morning near the Swedish island of Gotland.  Initial reports suggested that the crew was held, beaten and interrogated for 12 hours by eight-(8) armed attackers.  Some reports suggest that the masked attackers posed as Swedish drugs police who spoke English with an accent.  Some reports indicate that these are the men who have been arrested for the hijacking, although it was previously reported that the attackers left the Arctic Sea within 12 hours of their initial attack.

Other reports indicate that the hijackers forced the crew to change course and turned off the vessel’s navigation equipment (AIS), while others suggest the AIS was remotely turned off. Interestingly, news of this incident would remain a virtual secret for the next five-(5) days. By the time the Swedish report of the attack emerged, the ship had already passed through the English Channel.

28 July 2009: The Arctic Sea reportedly makes routine contact with the Dover Coastguard as it enters the English Channel. A short time later, the same day managers of the Malta flagged and Russian owned ship Arctic Sea report the armed boarding to the Helsinki police authorities.

30 July 2009: The last signal from the vessel’s automatic identification system (AIS) placed the Arctic Sea between southwest England and France. at 1:29 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on July 30, the ship’s signal vanished.

31 July - 2 August 2009: European maritime officials report receiving radio calls from the Arctic Sea alleging a second attack off the Portuguese coast.

3 August 2009: According to published reports, Vladimir Dushin, vice-president of Renaissance Insurance, alleges that the company was contacted by telephone by an English-speaking caller who demanded $1.5 million or the crew of the Arctic Sea would be shot and the ship sunk.  Interpol issues an initial hijacking alert for the Arctic Sea.