Russian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation of the captain of a Russian trawler that fled the Norwegian Coast Guard with two Norwegian inspectors trapped on board, officials said.
The trawler, Elektron, had been seized Oct. 15 by a Norwegian Coast Guard vessel for alleged fisheries violations, but it fled the cutter that was escorting it to port and reached Russia's waters with the inspectors still on board. The inspectors were later transferred to a Norwegian vessel.
"Elektron's captain deliberately deprived two Norwegian citizens of their freedom and opportunity to leave the ship," a statement from the Prosecutor General's office said Tuesday. It said prosecutors in Russia's Arctic seaport of Murmansk, where Elektron was based, have opened the investigation of captain Valery Yarantsev on charges of illegal fishing and illegal detention of the Norwegian inspectors. Yarantsev, who suffered a heart attack during the chase, has remained in a hospital.
Russian officials have promised to investigate the incident thoroughly and to prosecute the crew if fishing violations are confirmed. The company that owns the Elektron said the captain had done nothing illegal.
But the statement from the Prosecutor General's office said that after the ship's detention, Yarantsev sent telegrams to the ship's owners reporting on violations found by Norwegian inspectors, including the use of illegal fishing tools. It said that Norwegian authorities also had provided materials documenting the violations.
All that indicates that Yarantsev had been involved in illegal fishing, the statement said. Yarantsev faces up to five years in prison in convicted, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, quoting regional prosecutors in Murmansk.
Last week, Norwegian officials also seized two other Russian fishing vessels for fishing violations. The ships were released Friday after Norwegian authorities received a bank guarantee for fines imposed on the ships.
Norway expanded its fisheries management zone around the Svalbard Islands in 1977 in hopes of preventing overfishing _ a lingering sore point with Russia, which rejects Norwegian rights to the area, the AP reported.