VLADIVOSTOK, Russia – A Russian court on Thursday imposed a fine of 250,000 rubles (about 1.1 million yen) on the skipper of a Japanese fishing boat who pleaded guilty to poaching crab in disputed waters off Hokkaido in mid-August.
The district court on the Russian-administered, Japan-claimed island of Kunashiri also said the boat would be confiscated and ordered the skipper, Noboru Sakashita, 59, to pay an additional 246,000 rubles for damages caused to Russia’s marine resources.
“I repent for the poaching incident and deeply regret it,” said Sakashita, who admitted to violating Russian territorial waters and poaching at the hearing.
But the ruling may just be a lull in the fishing boat saga. Russian prosecutors can appeal the decision in 10 days, and the Japanese government objects to part of the ruling.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jinen Nagase said in Tokyo that the government will try to get Sakashita released as soon as possible.
Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki said separately, however, that he cannot accept the confiscation of the boat.
“We have been consistently demanding the prompt release of the boat and the captain, and the Foreign Ministry will continue to make these demands,” Shiozaki said at a news conference.
The skipper is expected to be released after going through the legal procedures and paying the fine, but may have to stay on Kunashiri if the prosecutors appeal.
Sakashita’s lawyer said earlier that the skipper of the 4.9-ton Kisshin Maru No. 31 wishes to return to Japan as soon as possible because he has aggravated a lower-back injury.
On Aug. 16, Russian border guards shot at and seized the boat in waters that Japan also claims near the disputed Habomai islet group. One of the Japanese crewmen was killed in the shooting.
Sakashita and the two other crew members were taken into custody in Russia on suspicion of illegal fishing in Russian waters.
The dead crewman’s body was returned to Japan shortly after the boat was seized, and the two other crewmen were handed back on Aug. 30.
Sakashita was indicted Sept. 4 on charges of illegal border crossing and poaching in Russian waters.
The long-standing territorial row between Japan and Russia over Kunashiri, the Habomai islets and two other islands off Hokkaido has prevented the countries from concluding a peace treaty to end World War II.
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