Arctic Sea secrets force maritime reporter into exile?

The strange story of the merchant vessel Arctic Sea took a new twist on Thursday, after some media reported that the man who drew public attention to the missing vessel had to flee Russia.

Mikhail Voitenko, chief editor of the “Maritime Bulletin – Sovfracht” news website, was reported to have fled in fear for his freedom after a tip from unnamed sources.

Interfax cites him as saying that “some powerful people after the events over the Arctic Sea would want to take revenge.” The sources warned that a criminal case against Voitenko was about to be launched and advised him to flee.

“Those who called me said they couldn’t stop the gears and advised me to keep away from Russia for three or four months,” the news agency cites him as saying.

“They said – we don’t want any more scandals around the Arctic Sea. I’m convinced there was some private interest of major importance. When the ship went missing everybody – I mean NATO and others – closed their eyes and Russia got sucked into this. The Russian Navy had no choice but to find it,” Voitenko told RT. news website adds that, according to Voitenko, the tip was to prevent further scandal over the Arctic Sea merchant vessel. “If you end up in prison now, it would be a new scandal, which we do not need at all now,” cites the unnamed well-wisher.

After the warning, Voitenko was said to have fled to Turkey in a matter of hours.

Voitenko’s website stated that he is in fact now in Istanbul.

“I’d like to tell all those concerned with my wellbeing that I am on a working visit in Istanbul and am making several interesting reports there,” the statement posted on Thursday says.

The message neither confirmed nor denied reports of Voitenko’s fleeing from Russia as a result of the Arctic Sea events, but on Thursday the website subsequently published an official denial signed by its press center. It said that the rumours of his exile are a result of communication problems. They confirmed that the Istanbul visit is for work purposes.

At the same time, Anastasia Ploskaya from the Maritime Bulletin says Voitenko has resigned without giving any reasons:

“Mikhail went on a work trip to Turkey and we had no suspicions about it. We didn't know he was threatened. However, he recently called the director of Maritime Bulletin and resigned from his position as editor-in-chief. He didn't explain why,” she said.

Earlier this week the website had technical difficulties. Two entries signed by Voitenko’s name hint at some incoming news and allege that the downtime of the site was due to a cyber attack.

Mikhail Voitenko himself was not available on the phone to comment on the news.

Voitenko was the first person to report on the strange attack on the vessel on August 8. Later, he gave regular updates on the vessel’s fate and was among the first to speculate that the hijack may have been connected with an illegal cargo onboard.

The story quickly drew international attention, as the ship was reported to have gone missing and Russian President Medvedev ordered the use of the Navy and other military forces to search for it.

Numerous theories have arisen over what kind of secret cargo the Arctic Sea was carrying, ranging from drugs to nuclear materials.