MOSCOW - The high-seas mystery over the freighter Arctic Sea remained unsolved yesterday after the Russian navy found the ship over the weekend off West Africa, far from Algeria, where it was supposed to dock two weeks ago.
A full cargo of questions remained unanswered:
Was the ship attacked near Sweden as reported? Was this an unheard-of case of piracy in European waters? Or a murky commercial dispute? Why was the ship found off Cape Verde, west of Senegal, 2,000 miles from its intended port?
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov informed President Dmitry A. Medvedev that the Russian-crewed freighter had been found 300 miles from Cape Verde and that the 15 crew members were taken aboard another vessel for questioning.
The details stopped there.
Since the Arctic Sea sailed from the Finnish port of Pietarsaari on July 21 with a cargo of timber worth $1.8 million, rumors and unconfirmed reports of misadventure have followed it.
On July 30, Swedish police said the ship's owner had reported that the crew claimed the vessel was boarded by masked men on July 24 near the Swedish island of Gotland. The invaders reportedly tied up the crew, beat them, claimed they were looking for drugs, then sped off 12 hours later in an inflatable craft.
By the time the Swedish report emerged, the ship had already passed through the English Channel, where it made its last known radio contact on July 28.
The Arctic Sea was scheduled to make port in Algeria on Aug. 4. But after it was late by more than a week, Medvedev ordered the Defense Ministry to find the freighter.
Subsequently, a ship resembling the 320-foot vessel was rumored to have been seen in the Spanish port of San Sebastian - even though the port is suitable only for small vessels - and then in the area of Cape Verde.
Adding to the mystery, Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, told the ITAR-Tass news agency yesterday that bogus information was deliberately provided to the news media "which did not allow them to calculate the true actions of the Russian forces."
With details still sparse, Viktor Matveyev, director of the ship's operator, Solchart, told the Associated Press: "We are all incredibly happy. Now the big work starts to find out what happened."
Serdyukov said the crew was not under armed control when the ship was found about 300 miles off the island nation of Cape Verde.
"The crew is alive, all are alive and healthy," he said. The crew members were taken aboard the Russian frigate Ladny, he said.
The disappearance of the Arctic Sea perplexed experts and officials across Europe. Speculation about what happened has ranged from its being seized by pirates to being involved in a murky commercial dispute.