Russian court convicts 6 in freighter hijacking

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 24, 2011; 10:17 AM

MOSCOW -- Six men were convicted Thursday by a Russian court for the 2009 hijacking of a freighter with a Russian crew that caused an international uproar.

Russian authorities said the Arctic Sea freighter was seized by pirates in the Baltic Sea after leaving Finland with a load of timber, but speculation persisted that it was carrying clandestine cargo, possibly Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles for Iran or Syria. Russian officials have denied those claims.

The men received prison terms ranging from seven to 12 years after being convicted of piracy charges, said Kseniya Solovyova, spokeswoman for the Arkhangelsk Region Court. Their lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

Two more hijackers were sentenced earlier by different Russian courts.

The Arctic Sea freighter was intercepted weeks after its July 2009 disappearance by a Russian navy frigate off Cape Verde, thousands of kilometers (miles) from its planned destination in Algeria.

Some observers questioned the Russian version of events, saying it made little sense for pirates to risk seizing a ship in the crowded Baltic Sea that was carrying relatively low-value cargo.

Israeli President Shimon Peres held talks in Moscow with President Dmitry Medvedev two days after the Arctic Sea was taken by the Russian navy. He said after the meeting that Medvedev had promised to reconsider selling S-300s to Iran under a 2007 deal to which Israel vehemently objected.

Russia eventually banned the sale of the S-300 systems to Iran last year.

© 2011 The Associated Press