Japan arrests Russian crew member over boat collision that killed three local fishermen

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's coast guard said Monday (June 7) it has arrested a Russian crew member over a collision that killed three local fishermen, in the latest maritime dispute between the neighbouring countries.

The collision of a Russian ship and a Japanese boat happened late last month off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

A Russian crew member was brought to Japan while officials investigated, and has now been formally arrested, a spokesman from the Monbetsu coast guard office in Hokkaido said.

"We have arrested a 38-year-old Russian third officer over allegations of death caused by professional negligence," she told Agence France-Presse.

The 662-ton Russian ship was heading towards Monbetsu when it collided with the much smaller Japanese vessel, with reports saying the area was blanketed in thick fog at the time.

Three fishermen on the Japanese boat were killed and two others lightly injured.

Days later, Russia's border guard detained 14 crew from a Japanese fishing boat, accusing them of "illegal" crab fishing off Sakhalin Island.

Russia says the vessel was in its exclusive economic zone, while Tokyo insists the boat had not strayed from Japanese waters.

Japan and Russia are locked in a sovereignty dispute over four islands administered by Moscow, which refers to them as the southern Kurils.

Tokyo also claims the islands, which it calls the Northern Territories, and the dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty since World War II.

Fishing vessels in the area have sometimes been involved in tensions. In 2019, Russian detained 24 Japanese fishermen and their vessels, accusing them of exceeding a quota on octopus catches.