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Russia frees 2 fishermen

Two crew members of a crabbing boat seized in mid-August off the disputed northern territories by the Russian Border Coast Guard for allegedly poaching in Russian-claimed waters were released Wednesday to a fisheries patrol boat belonging to the Hokkaido government and returned to Nemuro, Hokkaido, later in the day.

Kawamura and Kamiya

Akiyoshi Kawamura, 29, and Haruki Kamiya, 25, were handed over to the fisheries patrol boat, Hokuo Maru, from a Russian vessel at about 11:20 a.m. the same day off Notsukesaki, Hokkaido.

Speaking at a press conference at Hanasaki Port in Nemuro, Kawamura and Kamiya apologized for causing trouble.

The two fisherman, however, said they were on the boat's deck when they were fired upon, so they did not know if they were fishing in Japanese waters at the time.

The release of the two crew members came after officials of the Hokkaido Fisheries and Forestry Division had an offshore meeting with Russian coast guard officials.

The captain of the Kisshin Maru No. 31, Noboru Sakashita, remains in Russian custody. Sakashita asked his two freed crewmates to convey a message to his family: "Don't worry, I'm fine."

Eleven government officials, comprising Naoshi Ishii, head of the Hokkaido Fisheries and Forestry Department, and six other officials of the Hokkaido government; Kazuhiko Nakamura, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's Russian Division; and Japan Coast Guard officials were on board the Hokuo Maru, which left Nemuro at 6:55 a.m on Wednesday.

"We asked Russia again to hand over the skipper and the boat, but they told us they didn't know at this point when they would be able to," Nakamura said.

Meanwhile, Hokkaido government officials and the RCG agreed to a better exchange of information, the officials said.

Before the vessel's departure, Ishii said the crew members' families said they wanted to see the Japanese fishermen.

"We'll do our best. In our meeting with the Russians, we'll protest [the fatal shooting of one of the crew members]," he said.

The offshore meeting was held between the Nemuro Peninsula and Kunashiri Island, one of the four Russian-held territories.

Such meetings have been held about twice a year since 1977 to exchange information and maintain the fishing order in waters near the northern territories.

Between the end of World War II and the end of 2004, 1,330 Japanese fishing boats were captured by patrol boats belonging to the then Soviet Union and Russia.

Captured crew members were usually detained in the northern territories. On their release, they usually returned to the country via Sakhalin, were brought home by Nemuro coast guard boats dispatched to Kunashiri Island or Shikotan Island or returned in their own vessels.

It was unprecedented for crew members to be handed over to Japanese officials after a midocean meeting, according to officials of the Hokkaido government.

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who is on a trip to Europe, was expected to fly to Moscow on Wednesday to seek the early release of the captain and the return of the fishing boat.

© The Yomiuri Shimbun

One Response to “Russia frees 2 fishermen”

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