Dmitrijs Savins gets 7 years for hijacking Russian cargo ship Arctic Sea

By Charles Clover and Catherine Belton
Saturday, June 12, 2010

MOSCOW -- A Latvian man was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison for leading the hijacking of a Russian cargo ship that mysteriously disappeared for a month last summer.

Dmitrijs Savins, the leader of eight suspected pirates who seized the ship, the Arctic Sea, told a Moscow court the motive was purely financial, to raise money using a Somali "scenario," Russian state television reported.

The armed group boarded the Arctic Sea, bound from Finland to Algeria, on July 24, then forced the crew to change course toward Africa and shut down the ship's navigational equipment, according to an account given by Russian officials at the time. On Aug. 18, the ship was overtaken by a Russian warship off West Africa and the eight suspected hijackers were arrested.

Savins said the hijacking was planned and organized by Estonia's former spy chief, Eerik-Niiles Kross, who was Savin's business partner.

Kross denied the accusation Friday. He told an Estonian newspaper that he was being smeared by Russian authorities for his links to the Georgian government. "I think this invention is linked to the fact that I was a security adviser to the Georgian government -- and Georgia is far from being Russia's best friend," he said.

Kross said he knew Savins, who he said had provided office space. "I know his face, as we sat in the same office," said Kross, who was the director of Estonian intelligence for 10 years, according to the Interfax news service.

Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the Estonian parliament's committee for European affairs, called the accusation against Kross a "disinformation campaign" being waged by Russia against the Baltic country, which has had strained relations with Moscow since its independence from the Soviet Union.

According to Russian investigators, Savins said he was to be paid 100,000 euros for the job, which he described as ransoming the ship. After the gang took control of the vessel off Sweden, he called the owners asking for 1.5 million euros to return it, which he said was denied. He said two other people were involved in arranging the hijacking, one German and one Israeli.

Savins's testimony is unlikely to dampen speculation that the Arctic Sea affair was more than a case of ransoming the ship. The Russian government issued contradictory statements about the hijacking from the beginning and kept the affair top secret, even to the extent of ordering returning crew members not to speak about the events. The cargo was officially described as timber, but numerous theories have emerged that the ship could have been carrying weapons.

-- Financial Times

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