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5 Oct, 2009 20:02

Wives of “Arctic Sea” sailors want their husbands back home

The wives of four sailors from the “Arctic Sea” cargo ship have published an open letter calling on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to help.

The vessel mysteriously disappeared in the Atlantic this summer before being found by the Russian Navy in August. Some of the sailors have yet to arrive home.

“Our husbands have spent 75 days on the ship and we do not know where it is or what is going to happen,” said the captain’s wife, Elena Zaretskaya. “We get short phone calls or messages once a week. That’s how our husbands told us that they haven't enough water.”

The women feel their loved ones are not safe.

“I am in a terrible state, close to despair – I could feel it in his voice that things there are far from good,” said Viktoria Shimik.

It has been more than two months since the “Arctic Sea” was allegedly hijacked off the coast of Sweden. The cargo was listed as timber. After it was freed dramatically by a Russian warship off the Cape Verde islands, 11 crew and eight suspected pirates were flown to Moscow for questioning.

The alleged hijackers have been charged with piracy and kidnap, while the sailors taken to Moscow were freed and are back home in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk.

But the captain and three other seamen were forced to stay on board despite a replacement crew ready to take over.

Their families have been told by Russian investigators the men will return, but not when. What will happen to the ship is not yet clear either.

The question of transferring the “Arctic Sea” back to its owner is being decided. Investigators in Russia's Prosecutor's Office have completed their investigation and confiscated material evidence from the ship.

Solchart, which owns the ship, says legal issues surrounding the case are complicated.

“In order to talk about what’s going to happen to the ship, we need to understand who we’ll be talking to,” said the company’s director, Viktor Matveev. “Unfortunately, it’s unclear with whom we’ll be holding negotiations. We are concerned about a lot of things – the lives of our staff, the four crew members, and our responsibilities to the lumber industry, as we are supposed to deliver the cargo.”

The “Arctic Sea” has been the focus of sensational media speculation, with some reports suggesting it was carrying Russian missiles for Iran or Syria, or even drugs. But Russian investigators say they nothing illegal on board.

Reports say the ship and its Russian naval escort are heading for Gibraltar, where the crew's family hope the mystery will finally end.

Read the full transcript of the open letter

"To the head of the Russian Federation government Vladimir Putin from Yelena Zaretskaya, Victoria Shumik, Irina Kuznetsova and Lidiya Volova – the wives of the “Arctic Sea” sailors

Open letter

We, the wives of the four “Arctic Sea” sailors who are Russian citizens, ask you to urgently bring our husbands home.
We received the letters (201/383081-09) from the Investigating Committee of the Public Prosecution Office of the Russian Federation as of 14.09.2009, saying that “after taking urgent action aboard the ship, they will be sent to their permanent place of residence – to Arkhangelsk.” The Investigating Committee has finalized the operation aboard the ship on 16.09.2009. But our husbands are still aboard the dry-cargo ship. 49 days have passed after the liberation of the sailors by the Russian Navy! They have not been replaced yet, though the replacement crew is ready to go.

We do not know where the ship is being transferred. Our husbands need emergency medical and psychological care. They have been in a total information vacuum for 74 days now!!! Please, facilitate the process of bringing our husbands back home, while they are still alive.

Kind regards,

Wives of the sailors: Yelena Zaretskaya, Viktoria Shumik, Irina Kuznetsova and Lidia Volova."