JAPAN PROTESTS RUSSIAN ATTACK ON BOAT
By HIROKO TABUCHI, Associated Press Writer Wed Aug 16, 4:04 PM ET
TOKYO - Japan
launched strong protest to Russia Wednesday
after a Russian patrol boat opened fire on a Japanese vessel, killing a fisherman in the latest flare-up of a territorial
dispute between the neighboring nations.
The crab fisherman was shot
and killed near Kaigara island, one of several islands off the northeast tip of Hokkaido
that are administered by Russia and claimed by Japan. Russia's
regional border patrol said he suffered a "fatal shot in the head."
Japan insisted the boat was in Japanese waters, called the act "unacceptable," and demanded immediate compensation and release
of the boat and surviving crew.
"There has been a loss of
life, and the situation is grave. Japan demands an immediate apology,"
Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters after a tense meeting with Galuzin in Tokyo.
"It's unacceptable this took place within Japanese waters."
Russian officials expressed
"regret" over the death but defended the patrol boat's actions, saying the Japanese ship had violated Russian waters and authorities
acted within their powers.
The responsibility for the
shootings lay "with the direct culprits and ... with Japanese authorities that close their eyes to fishermen's poaching in
Russian territorial waters," Russia's
Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russian officials said the
man, identified by Japanese media as Mitsuhiro Morita, 35, was killed by a warning shot as he rushed to recover fishing equipment
aboard the fishing boat, which was "maneuvering dangerously" and tried to ram a Russian dinghy.
"They were not aiming (to
kill)," Russian Deputy Ambassador Mikhail Galuzin said.
The three surviving crew
members, who were not injured, were taken to a nearby island for questioning and will face criminal charges, according to
national broadcaster NHK. The three have admitted they were fishing illegally, NHK said, citing Russian investigators.
Russian officials said they
had discovered freshly caught crabs on the fishing boat: Japan's
Fishery Agency acknowledged that crab fishing in that area is illegal at this time of year under an agreement between the
Morita's mother, Shoko,
said from her home in Hokkaido she couldn't believe her
son was dead.
"I don't understand why
they had to open fire," Shoko said through tears on NHK. "He was a good son. He didn't do anything wrong."
The four islands —
called the Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories
by Japan — were seized by the Soviet
army near World War II's end. Tokyo has demanded their return,
and the dispute has blocked a treaty formally ending wartime hostilities.
The islands are surrounded
by rich fishing waters and are believed to have promising offshore oil and natural gas reserves, as well as gold and silver
While Russian authorities
have seized dozens of Japanese boats and injured several fishermen over the years, this was the first shooting death of a
Japanese in the region since October 1956, Coast Guard officials said.
A total of 30 fishing boats
and 210 Japanese crew members were seized by Russia
in the disputed northern waters between 1994 and 2005. Seven fishermen were injured when the Russian coast guard fired at
them during the same period, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.