MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Eight people from Latvia, Estonia, and Russia have been arrested for hijacking the merchant ship "Arctic Sea" and are being questioned aboard a Russian naval vessel, Russian news agencies said.
The fate of the cargo ship and its 15-man Russian crew baffled Europe's maritime authorities for more than two weeks and aroused suspicions of foul play or that carried a secret cargo.
The vessel disappeared after it left European waters and failed to deliver its cargo of timber to Algeria in early August. On August 17, Russia's Navy said it had found the vessel in the Atlantic off Cape Verde.
The hijackers were being questioned onboard the Russian antisubmarine ship "Ladny," Interfax news agency reported.
Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told reporters: "This was an act of piracy."
Russian news agencies quoted Serdyukov as telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev the hijackers were nationals from Russia, Estonia, and Latvia.
According to ITAR-TASS news agency, Serdyukov said the Arctic Sea was boarded at night on July 24 in Swedish waters by four Estonians, two Latvians, and two Russians who approached in an inflatable speed boat.
They said they had problems with their boat then forced the crew at gunpoint to follow their instructions.
"The ship then moved on the route dictated by the hijackers towards Africa, with its navigation equipment turned off," Serdyukov was quoted as saying.
Cape Verdean authorities said the "Arctic Sea's" crew would be taken to the island of Sal later on August 18 before being flown to Moscow.
The Estonian and Latvian foreign ministries said they were unable to confirm reports that their citizens were involved in hijacking the ship.
Russian authorities gave no details of a possible motive for the hijacking or the vessel's state.
The Maltese-registered "Arctic Sea," carrying timber worth $1.3 million from Finland, was to have docked on August 4 in the Algerian port of Bejaia.