Japanese fishing boat fired on, seized by Russians; Incident threatens to revive tensions over disputed waters


TOKYO -- The Russian coast guard fired on and seized a Japanese fishing boat yesterday in waters near Japan's northernmost main island, according to Japanese and Russian officials.

The incident threatens to revive tensions between the countries, which have had disputes about maritime boundaries and possession of small islands in the area since World War II.

Japan's new prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, is scheduled to visit the Russian president-elect, Vladimir V. Putin, in Moscow on April 29. Japan has been pressing Russia to negotiate a formal peace treaty, which it says should include the return of northern islands seized by Moscow in the closing days of the war.

According to Russian officials who briefed journalists in Moscow, the Japanese fishing vessel disobeyed orders from a Russian patrol boat to stop for inspection.

"The intruder was shelled by the Russian border guards when it attempted to escape from the Russian economic zone into neutral waters," the Russian ITAR-Tass news agency said. None of the 20 crew members was injured, Japanese officials said.

The Russian authorities said the Japanese ship, the No. 7 Daitoku-Maru, was operating with its name and identification numbers concealed and had tried to escape after being hailed.

Japanese authorities gave a different account, saying that the fishing vessel was operating in Japanese waters near what Japan calls its Northern Territories.

The Japanese coast guard sent three aircraft and four patrol boats to the area, 60 miles south of the Cape of Ochiishi off the island of Hokkaido. But officials said the Japanese coast guard withdrew after the fishing vessel was taken under escort into Russian waters.

"It appears that two Russian soldiers are standing on the bridge of the Japanese ship," a Japanese official said. "If this continues, we will consider the ship seized."

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