Tue, Aug 22, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Japanese captain apologizes over crewman's death

AFP , TOKYO

The captain of a Japanese fishing boat captured by Russia in disputed waters has apologized for the incident which left one of his crewmen dead, television footage showed yesterday.

Russia on Saturday handed over the body of Mitsuhiro Morita but has continued to detain the three others for investigation despite appeals by Tokyo.

"I'm sorry for causing trouble to the people of Nemuro City and the whole nation of Japan," captain Noboru Sakashita, 59, who is based in the northeastern Japanese town, said while in Russian captivity.

"I want to offer my condolences to Morita, who died. I cannot regret this any less," he said. "I regret what has happened and I want to come back to Nemuro with the remaining crew members."

His apology was broadcast by Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which said he was speaking in an interview on Friday with a Russian newspaper reporter.

Russia says Sakashita's boat violated its waters and was poaching crabs.

A Russian patrol on Wednesday shot dead Morita, 35, as it seized the boat and towed it to Kunashiri island, one of the four disputed Kuril islands off Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.

Japan has appealed for the release of the three fishermen. Sakashita may be held longer than the other two, who are both in their 20s, to face charges of illegal fishing and entering Russian waters, Japanese media said.

Soviet troops seized the four islands -- known as the Northern Territories by Japan -- at the end of World War II and expelled their Japanese residents.

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