TOKYO, Dec. 24 (Reuters / EP) –
Russian authorities have released five Japanese fishing vessels captured last week while sailing in waters near the South Kuril Islands, controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan, as reported by Japanese spokesman, Yoshihide Suga.
Suga has confirmed that all fishing crew members are in good health. The ships were fishing octopus in a maritime area near the disputed islands when they were intercepted by Russian ships on December 17 on suspicion that they could have violated fishing agreements, according to the Japanese Government.
“The five ships and their crew, 24 in total, have left for Nemuro, on the island of Hokkaido, at around 10 am,” Suga said in a press conference on Tuesday. “They are expected to arrive in Nemuro tonight. At the moment, there are no problems with the health of the crew,” he added.
Citing a head of the Russian Border Guard, the Japanese news agency Kiodo has reported that the release has come after the crew paid a fine of 6.4 million rubles (about 92,000 euros) imposed by a Russian court on Monday for breaking the legislation on fishing catches that Japanese ships can make around the Kuriles.
After the capture of the ships, Suga assured that the crews had done nothing wrong and that the interception was unacceptable. Japan claims as part of its territory the four southernmost islands of the Kuril archipelago, which it defines as the Northern Territory, while Russia lists them as the Southern Kuriles.
The southern Kuril Islands were invaded by the Soviet Army at the end of World War II. Japan claims them as its own by scrutinizing the Bilateral Trade Agreement signed with Russia in 1855. The dispute over the South Kuriles has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty that is pending since the end of World War II in 1945 .