NEMURO, Hokkaido – Two Japanese fishermen returned home Wednesday after being detained by Russian authorities for two weeks for alleged poaching.
A Russian Federal Border Guard Service boat handed over Akiyoshi Kawamura, 29, and Haruki Kamiya, 25, to a Hokkaido fisheries patrol boat near the Japanese-Russian median line just off the coast of Hokkaido at around 1:40 p.m., a prefectural official said.
The skipper of Kisshin Maru No. 3, Noboru Sakashita, 59, is still in custody and faces legal action and the boat remains in Russian hands.
Russian authorities shot and killed a fourth crew member, Mitsuhiro Morita, around 5 a.m. on Aug. 16 in what was reported to be a warning shot after the crab boat allegedly entered Russia-controlled, but disputed, waters off Hokkaido.
The patrol boat Hokuo Maru arrived at Hansaki port in Nemuro, Hokkaido, with the fishermen at around 6:25 p.m.
The freed pair faced reporters in Nemuro and apologized for the trouble that has been caused. Looking downhearted, the two, however, answered few questions, often replying “We don’t know” or “We can’t remember.”
“An inflatable boat appeared from the port quarter, and seconds later, we were shot at,” Kamiya told the news conference.
“The Russians shouted something, but I can’t remember it well. I lay down on the deck because I saw Mr. Morita was shot,” Kawamura said.
The two men said they did not know where they were when they were fired on. They claimed that at that time, the crew was trying to untangle seaweed lines to their crab pots.
Japan has pressed Russia to release Sakashita and the boat, claiming the incident occurred in Japanese waters.
Morita’s body was returned to Japan on Aug. 19.
Yevgeny Lazarev, a spokesman for the coast guard branch on Sakhalin Island, was quoted by the Interfax news agency Tuesday as saying the two crewmen were unaware that their boat had entered Russian territorial waters.
He added that Sakashita has assumed blame for the violation, Interfax said.
The Russian patrol vessel fired at the crab boat near Russian-administered Kaigara Island, and Moscow claimed the boat had intruded and ignored orders to stop.
Sakashita was quoted as telling the Russian border guard during the investigation, “I saw a flash (before the seizure), but it was dark at the time and I did not recognize it as a stop order.”
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