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30 Aug, 2009 01:15

Arctic Sea sailors return home following interrogation

Nine Russian sailors from the freighter "Arctic Sea" have finally left Moscow and returned safely to their home city of Archangelsk, according to the on-line edition Life.ru.

The Russian crew members of the Maltese-flagged vessel saw their friends and relatives for the first time after having gone missing in the Atlantic for more than two weeks and were later detained for questioning by investigators.

Following their release, the sailors declined to answer questions from journalists.

Eleven crew members, along with eight alleged hijackers, were flown to Moscow on August 20. The captain and three other sailors stayed aboard the ship, which is now on its way to the Russian port of Novorossiysk.

Later, Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee, said that they “urgently” needed to take eyewitness evidence from the crew members.

“We do not rule out that the ship might have been carrying something other than timber. So we had to detain part of the crew – in order to find out if anyone was involved in the hijacking,” Bastrykin told journalists.

Arctic Sea, supposedly transporting timber from Finland to Algeria, was seized on July 24 in the Baltic Sea. It was only on August 17 that the vessel was discovered 300 miles off Cape Verde.

Meanwhile, the suspected hijackers of the cargo ship deny Russia's charges of piracy and kidnapping, insisting they are ecologists and were trying to save themselves after they ran out of fuel.

Among the alleged pirates are citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Russia.