Eight "pirates" were arrested yesterday on suspicion of hijacking the cargo ship Arctic Sea by posing as stranded sailors whose engine had broken down.
The suspects, four Estonian citizens, two Latvians and two Russian nationals, were charged with carrying out Europe's first act of piracy in hundreds of years.
But the motive behind the seizure remained a mystery as experts claimed the full story had yet to emerge.
Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian defence minister, said the armed gang had seized the cargo freighter at gunpoint in the Baltic Sea 26 days ago.
He said that the pirates boarded the ship in Swedish waters and then took the vessel through the English Channel towards West Africa's Atlantic coast, almost 3,000 miles from its intended destination in Algeria.
"These people, after claiming that their boat was not working, boarded the Arctic Sea and, using the threat of arms, demanded that the crew follow all of their orders without condition," he said.
However, the circumstances surrounding the incident and delays in the release of information by the Russian authorities continued to raise questions.
Mikhail Voitenko, an expert in piracy and maritime security, has suggested that the delays in reporting the hijacking, the low value of the ship's timber cargo, only around €1.2m, and the disabling of communications systems pointed to a more sinister conspiracy.
He hinted that Russian security forces could have been involved in the hijack at some stage.
"The operation cost more than the cargo and ship combined," he said. "It makes sense only if looked at as a conflict between states.
"I believe states, state interests, were involved in what happened. I believe the countries involved found a solution and agreed to 'keep it in the family'."
The incident was brought to an end on Monday without a shot being fired when the vessel was intercepted by a Russian frigate.
The 15 crew were travelling from the Cape Verde Islands last night where they were due to board a military plane for Moscow.
Russia's authorities have opened a criminal investigation on charges of "kidnapping" ahead of a complicated legal debate over which jurisdiction should deal with the offences.
A European Commission spokesman said: "This is quite a unique and particular case, the full details of which will one day certainly make a story for a Hollywood movie."
European Union maritime officials have remained sceptical of the possibility of "traditional piracy" in Europe's busy and highly policed sea lanes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)