Six Arctic Sea hijackers given jail sentences

A Russian court sentenced on Thursday six people involved in a pirate attack on the Arctic Sea vessel in July 2009 to prison terms from seven to ten years in a high-security jail.

The Arctic Sea went missing in the Atlantic on July 24, 2009, while carrying a $2 million shipment of timber from Finland to Algeria. It was intercepted by the Russian Navy off West Africa on August 17 and eight hijackers were arrested.

The ship’s disappearance, which triggered a major international search effort, raised suspicions that it was carrying a “secret cargo” of drugs or weapons. Russian authorities denied the rumors, saying the vessel was hijacked by criminals who demanded a ransom.

Russia’s special investigations committee announced last year that the crewmembers of the Arctic Sea had been formally recognized as victims of a pirate attack.

Oksana Grushetskaya, the defense lawyer, criticized on Thursday the court decision.

‘We disagree with the court’s decision and believe that the defendants’ actions should be qualified as “hijacking,” not “piracy,”‘ she told journalists. “We also consider the punishment too harsh and will file an appeal.”

Prosecutor Dmitry Smirnov has said he believed the sentence was fair, adding, however, that the court could have shown leniency towards Alexei Bulev, who has pleaded guilty and is seriously ill. Bulev has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars for participating in the attack.

The other two pirates, Andrei Lunev and Latvian national Dmitry Savins, who also pleaded guilty, were sentenced to five and seven years in a high-security prison in May and June 2010, respectively. Savin, who has admitted that he led the attack, took part in Thursday’s trial as a witness.

ARCHANGELSK, March 24 (RIA Novosti)

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