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Fugitive Russian fishing vessel leaves Japanese port

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March 5, 2001 


TOKYO-(AP) - A Russian fishing boat that took refuge in a northern Japanese port last month after fleeing from Russian coast guards put to sea on Sunday after being ordered to leave by Japanese authorities, a maritime official said.

The 243-ton STM-17 departed Wakkanai on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido on Sunday evening with all 12 crew members abroad, said Chiharu Saito, an official at the Japan Maritime Safety Agency.

She declined to discuss the boat's destination or provide other details, saying only that it left the port in response to an order by Japanese authorities.

Russia asked Japan to extradite the STM-17 after it arrived in Wakkanai on Feb. 21 following a 12-hour chase through Sea of Japan by Russian coast guard vessels and aircraft, which fired warning shots in an attempt to stop it.

Russian authorities did not speculate on the crew's motives for fleeing, though news reports suggested that they were poachers.

The trawler was registered in the northern Russian port of Vladivostok. Russian coast guards have been trying to combat poachers fishing for herring, pollock and crabs in the Sea of Japan.

Japanese inspectors found no fish in the STM-17's cargo hold, though there were a few frozen cod and herrings, which possibly were used for bait.

Wakkanai is 1,091 kilometers (676 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

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