Crew members of the Arctic Sea cargo ship joked that they had disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle and been fed ice cream by pirates as they returned home to their families in Arkhangelsk on Sunday.
But the 11 sailors, who were greeted by relatives as they stepped off a train from Moscow, refused to shed any light on what had happened between July 24, when their ship was purportedly seized by hijackers near Sweden, and their rescue off the western coast of Africa by the Navy on Aug. 17.
The sailors also would not discuss their subsequent two weeks in Moscow, where investigators questioned them and only allowed them to contact relatives Thursday.
“The ship was in the sea, in the Bermuda Triangle, and the pirates fed us ice cream,” a sailor said in response to reporters’ questions about the ship’s mysterious disappearance, the Life.ru news portal reported.
Asked when the crew had realized that pirates had seized the ship, a sailor said: “Immediately. It was clear from the first minute.”
Plied about life on the ship with the hijackers and being questioned in Moscow, the sailors repeatedly offered the same answer: “It wasn’t very pleasant for us,” Life.ru reported.
Four other sailors from the original crew remain on the Arctic Sea and are sailing toward Novorossiisk, authorities say.
Eight suspected hijackers of the ship have pled not guilty and accused the ship’s captain of taking them captive, their lawyers said Friday. The suspects maintain that they belong to an environmental group and were fished out of the sea after their own boat ran out of gasoline during a storm.
“My defendant says that they were waiting for gas on that vessel. The captain promised that there would be gas,” said Alexander Samodaikin, the lawyer for suspect Alexei Buleyev, Interfax reported.
He said the suspects ended up stranded on the ship for three weeks because the captain refused to help them.
Meanwhile, the web site of the Sovfracht Maritime Bulletin, run by piracy expert Mikhail Voitenko, crashed Friday afternoon and remained down Sunday. Voitenko believes that the Arctic Sea saga has political overtones, and the issue has been widely discussed on his web site. “The site is down, and the forum too,” Voitenko said in a statement. “At the moment, I have no idea when it will open. I don’t know why it is down either.”