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Wives Urge Release Of Stranded 'Arctic Sea' Crewmen

Russian officials and rescuers with crewmembers of the "Arctic Sea" near Cape Verde on August 19.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The wives of four crewmen on the ship "Arctic Sea" have appealed for them to be allowed home from a voyage still shrouded in mystery after eight other men who boarded the vessel were charged with piracy.

The wives' plea was in an open letter saying they last had phone contact on September 18, when their husbands, including the ship's captain, told them they were in poor health with little water aboard.

The four crewmen have spent more than two months on the Maltese-registered "Arctic Sea," whose disappearance in the Atlantic after being boarded by the eight suspects in the Baltic Sea in July caused a media storm.

Media reports said the ship, whose cargo was officially timber, had been carrying an air-defense system for Iran but Russian newswires said a week ago that prosecutors had found no suspicious materials.

"We, the wives of the four sailors of the Arctic Sea, are appealing to all international organisations ... with a cry for help," said the letter by the women, including the captain's wife, Elena Zaretskaya.

"They are all in a poor physical state.... There is little water on the ship. The food is meager. All the sailors are in a state of stress," they said in the letter, which was addressed to the governments of Russia, Spain, Malta, and Finland, the Red Cross and the International Transport Workers' Federation.

"On the 19th September the group of investigators left, communication with the ship stopped. Before that, our husbands phoned us about four times...since the 18th September, there's no contact," the letter said.

Dispute Over Route

The "Arctic Sea" had been due to sail to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk after the suspected hijackers were removed, and had been expected to arrive in early September. But most recently it has been anchored off the Canary Islands.

The wives' letter said the four crew were unable to leave the ship because their documents had been destroyed.

Media reports have said officials from Spain, Malta, and Russia cannot agree on how and where to transfer the ship, meaning those on board cannot leave. Russian news agencies have reported the Arctic Sea is accompanied by a Russian navy ship.

The "Arctic Sea," which had been bound from Finland to Algeria, was intercepted by Russian warships off Cape Verde and the eight suspects were flown to Moscow.

The wives' letter was published on the maritime website that first reported the vessel may have been hijacked,

"Two months have passed but neither Russia, nor Malta, nor Finland, nor Spain have taken the responsibility for delivering the ship as soon as possible to the shore, and first of all letting the sailors go," the wives said in the letter.