Wed, Oct 04, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Japanese captain arrested by Russia heads back home


A Japanese fishing boat captain arrested in August by Russian coast guard officials who fatally shot one of his crew members was released and returned home after being convicted and fined in Russia for poaching, officials said.

Japanese Transport Minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba said Japan would demand that Russia also hand over the man's fishing boat to investigate the shooting, which took place in waters claimed by both countries and sparked recriminations from both sides.

"There is a possibility that bullet holes and other evidence may be left on the boat, which would be crucial evidence to get the clear picture of the shooting," Fuyushiba said.

"We will continue to ask Russia to return the boat through diplomatic channels," he added.

Noboru Sakashita was handed over yesterday on a Japanese boat in northern waters between the two countries and returned to Nemuro on Japan's northernmost island prefecture of Hokkaido hours later, a foreign ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

Both countries maintained that Sakashita's boat was in their own territorial waters when Russian guards opened fire on Aug. 16, killing one of the fisherman on board.

Russian officials said their coast guard fired a warning shot after the fishing boat failed to heed orders to halt, and that the shot accidentally killed the fisherman.

Russia released the two other crewmen in late August but held Sakashita for prosecution, accusing him of poaching and illegally crossing an international border.

Moscow complained in the wake of the shooting of repeated violations of Russian waters by Japanese fishing trawlers despite several appeals. Tokyo protested Russia's response as too extreme and demanded that the officials responsible for the shooting be punished.

A Russian court last month convicted Sakashita of poaching and fined him over 500,000 rubles (US$18,750), Japanese officials said.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura said the Japanese Coast Guard and ministry officials were to question the captain over the incident.

"The government will respond after hearing the situation," Shimomura said.

"In order for the government to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, we will consider measures after hearing the situation from him," he said.

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