In Arkhangelsk, a Russian shipping town on the edge of the White Sea where most of the adult male population are sailors, whispers persist that the strange circumstances behind the vessel’s disappearance and its interception must mean it was carrying a secret cargo, most likely weapons.
Prosecutors have gagged the 11 members of the crew that have returned home to Arkhangelsk. “No one will speak to you here,” says one local entrepreneur. “Everyone fears for their jobs. Don’t dig too deeply or they will come at you from the side.”
Questions surround why the Russian government, after a wait of more than 10 days, sent three battleships and a frigate to hunt down the ship and then brought back the 11 as well as the alleged hijackers in enormous military aircraft normally used for transporting armoured vehicles and troops. The Malta-registered ship was officially carrying only €1.3m ($1.9m, £1.2m) worth of timber.
The US and UK governments are believed to have classified information about the incident, which appeared to cause a flurry of diplomatic activity between Israel and Russia. Some suspect the Arctic Sea may have been carrying S-300s, the Russian missile defence system equivalent to the US Patriot, or long-range Kh-55 missiles to Iran. Russia strongly denies the ship was carrying weapons.