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As Russia releases Somalis, other "pirates" languish in jail

Mystery surrounds the men accused of hijacking the Arctic Sea.

According to Russian investigators, the Arctic Sea, a Maltese-flagged ship owned by a Russian-run Finnish firm, was hijacked near Sweden by the eight men one day after setting off from the Finnish port of Pietarsaari on July 24, 2009 with a $2 million load of timber destined for the northern Algerian port of Bejaia. It supposedly fell off the radar for three weeks, when it was spotted off the coast of Cape Verde and rescued by the Russian navy.

Lawyers for some of the alleged pirates said they were being trained for an ecological mission, began taking on water and sought refuge with the Arctic Sea.

Neither story seems to tell the whole truth.

Mikhail Voitenko, a Russian naval analyst, was the loudest proponent of the theory that the ship was intercepted while carrying Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, after a tip-off from Israeli intelligence. The theory appeared to gain heft following a secret visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the scandal.

Reached by telephone in Thailand, where he has been living since fleeing Russia on Sept. 3 for fear of his life, Voitenko said that theory was the only possibility. “I don’t think it, I know it,” he said, citing two sources that he refused to name.

He said following the case of the alleged pirates was pointless. “They have no access to lawyers. We haven’t seen the materials. We haven’t seen any witnesses.”

It’s been nearly nine months since the Arctic Sea scandal came to a close with the alleged pirates’ arrest. The global buzz surrounding the affair has all but died out.

The Arctic Sea has been sold to a Canadian company, according to Russian news reports. No one at Solchart, the ship's owner at the time of the alleged hijacking, would comment on anything related to the ship on Friday.

Voitenko said he has found out that Solchart is backed by an official who served in the GRU, the Soviet-era foreign intelligence agency, and that he is now trying to sell the company.

Meanwhile, the courts will keep trying the alleged pirates.

And life goes on. Gunta Savin, the wife of Dmitry Savin, one of the two men who pleaded guilty this week, had always maintained his innocence. She was pregnant when he set off to sea, and gave birth to their son in February. “We’re in touch through letters,” she said. “I sent him a picture.”