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Russia releases five Japanese fishing boats seized off Hokkaido

Kyodo

Russia on Tuesday released five Japanese fishing boats seized in waters near Russian-held, Japan-claimed islands in mid-December.

The release came after the crews of the boats paid a fine of some 6.4 million rubles (¥11 million) ordered by a Russian court Monday for violating regulations on the size of the catch Japanese vessels can take from waters around the islands, the Russian border guard said.

The five vessels, crewed by 24 people in total, departed for Nemuro in eastern Hokkaido on Tuesday morning, according to the Japanese government. A lawyer for the fishermen said they have no health problems.

The seizure of the five boats, belonging to several fishery cooperatives in Nemuro, occurred Dec. 17 while they were operating near the Russian-held, Japan-claimed Habomai islet chain off Hokkaido.

The boats were catching octopus in waters around the disputed islands — called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia — under a 1998 bilateral agreement, the Japanese government said.

The boats were taken to Furukamappu, also known as Yuzhno-Kurilsk, on Kunashiri, another one of the four disputed islands, for further investigation.

Russian border authorities said the fishermen’s catch exceeded the figures recorded in their daily logs by more than 6 tons. The ruling, meanwhile, listed the catch as exceeding the recorded amount by 7.5 tons.

The bilateral agreement allows Japanese boats to catch octopus, Alaska pollock, Atka mackerel and other species near the islands within certain quotas.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi asked his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow to release the boats and their crews as quickly as possible.