Russia to return Japanese fishing boat... with no crew?

Russia said Monday that it will return a Japanese fishing boat seized off the Pacific Coast last month, but there was no word on whether the crew of 17 would also be released.

The Foreign Ministry said it informed Japan on Friday that the Hoshin Maru 88, captured by the Russian coast guard on June 3 and taken to a port on the Kamchatka Peninsula, will be returned in exchanged for a fine that has not yet been determined.

The Foreign Ministry statement said nothing about the crew members, and ministry officials declined immediate comment.

Russia has seized several Japanese fishing boats over alleged poaching since last year, mainly around a string of islands that the two countries have been disputing for some 60 years. The islands, called the Southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, was seized by the Soviet Union near the end of World War II, and the dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said Friday that it had filed a complaint with an international maritime court for the release of the Hoshin Maru 88 and its crew, as well as a fishing boat seized in November.

The Russian statement expressed regret that Japan turned to the court, saying it is always open to resolving the issue of seizing Japanese boats and their crews bilaterally.

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