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17 Sep, 2009 15:05

Controversial vessel stuck in financial limbo

Concerns have been raised over the fate of the crew onboard the controversial Arctic Sea merchant vessel. The ship is running out of fuel and drinking water and is still unable to dock in the Canary Islands.

The ship’s trials and tribulations have taken yet another turn after Maltese authorities announced that they are refusing to take full responsibility for the freighter.

Malta – the country whose flag the Arctic Sea was flying – says it is not going to take part in preparing the paperwork necessary for the ship to enter the port.

“The Russian side has received an official note from the embassy of the Republic of Malta in Russia, saying that the Maltese side does not intend to send its representatives to take part in the handing over of the vessel in the port of Las Palmas,” said a Russian prosecution official. He added that the move “puts the crew of the freighter and the prosecutors onboard in a difficult position.”

Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency has received an official statement from Maltese maritime authorities explaining that Russia has asked the island nation to ensure the docking of the freighter in Las Palmas. Malta, however, is insisting that the responsibility for the fate of Arctic Sea lies on the shoulders of its owner and not on the flag country.

However, the situation is further complicated by the fact that Solchart – the company which owns the ship – announced that it is now bankrupt. Neither Russian nor Spanish officials want to sign for the port expenditures either.

The ship is stuck in open water some 15 nautical miles off the coast. Russian officials warned that if the situation is not resolved soon the crew may run out of fuel and water.

The Russian-crewed vessel went missing for three weeks in the Atlantic, prompting a major international search involving navies from several countries.

Spanish authorities on their part are concerned that the ship, currently towed by a Russian tow ship, may be damaged. “If a decision on the Arctic Sea’s fate is not taken soon, we may face problems, because having the vessel near our shores may pose danger to passing ships and the environment,” the port spokesman said.

The cargo vessel caught the world's attention when it went missing in the Atlantic for three weeks. The subsequent search and rescue operation with the involvement of the Russian military raised much speculation over the nature of the vessel’s cargo.

Journalists and observers suggested several sinister options, including fissile materials, cruise missiles and air defense systems. Russian officials and investigators denied such allegations.