EU official: Israel hijacked Russian ship

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel intercepted a Russian-manned cargo ship allegedly carrying secret weapons that had disappeared, a European Union official said.

Adm. Tarmo Kouts, the European Union’s rapporteur on piracy and a former commander of the Estonian armed forces, told Time in an article posted Monday on the magazine’s Web site that although Russia claimed the ship was carrying lumber, only a shipment of missiles could explain its actions since the alleged hijacking on July 24.

"There is the idea that there were missiles aboard, and one can’t explain this situation in any other way," Kouts told Time. "As a sailor with years of experience, I can tell you that the official versions are not realistic."

Russia said the ship, the Arctic Sea, was destined for Algeria with less than $2 million of timber, was hijacked and its tracking device disabled in late July. In mid-August the Russian government sent out a search party, which recovered the ship and its crew without firing a shot, according to Time.

Russia denied the ship was running weapons to the Middle East.

According to Time, Israeli President Shimon Peres met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, the day after the ship was recovered and the leaders discussed "the sale of Russian weapons and military hardware to countries hostile to Israel," though the Arctic Sea was not specifically mentioned.

In addition, Time wrote, Russia sent a disproportionate force that included destroyers and submarines to look for the ship, and returned the small crew and alleged pirates back in two enormous military cargo planes. 

Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin, said Kouts should stop "running his mouth," Time reported.  

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