MATSUE — The Hamada branch of the Matsue District Court in Shimane Prefecture dismissed an indictment Friday against the captain of a South Korean fishing boat seized in June on charges of operating in Japan’s territorial waters.
The boat was discovered fishing in waters off Hamada claimed under revisions to the Japanese Territorial Sea Law.
Presiding Judge Yasuhiro Hasegawa ruled that Japanese authorities cannot act against a South Korean fishing boat if it operates outside the 12-nautical mile exclusive fishing zone provided for under the Japan-South Korea fishery pact.
The judge ruled that bilateral or international treaties or agreements come before domestic laws, irrespective of the dates they took effect. He went on to say that the fishery zones set under the bilateral fishery pact are not affected even if new sea areas are later designated as Japanese territorial waters under revisions to domestic law.
It is quite unusual for a court to dismiss a prosecution action in a criminal case. The ruling is certain to have a great impact on bilateral fishery negotiations between Japan and South Korea, which are now experiencing problems, and make the Japanese government’s position in the talks more difficult.
The Matsue District Public Prosecutor’s Office had demanded a 1.2 million yen fine on skipper Kim Sung I of the 68-ton South Korean fishing boat Daedong No. 909.
The office immediately appealed to a higher court, asserting that it could not condone the district court decision because it erred in the interpretation of the Japanese-South Korea fishery pact and Japanese laws governing fishing operations by non-Japanese.
But the defense welcomed Friday’s district court decision, saying that the dismissal of the suit is quite reasonable.
Under the revised Territorial Sea Law, Japan’s 12 miles of waters no longer follow the outline of the coast. The outermost tips of each arc in the winding coastline have been joined with a single, curved boundary, thereby expanding the country’s territorial waters.
Six boats have been seized on charges of operating in the expanded Japanese territorial waters but the authorities have taken legal action against only two of them. The other case was filed at the Hagi Summary Court in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Friday’s ruling is the first to be made regarding the two cases.
The South Korean government has strongly protested the Japanese moves and its parliament adopted a resolution in late July calling for the return of crew members seized from the boats.
The revised Territorial Sea Law went into force in January this year after Japan ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Government sources did not hesitate to show their bewilderment at the local court decision and asserted that the government exercised its right as provided for under the U.N. convention and that the validity of the convention must be respected.