A Russian cargo ship detained two weeks ago by the North Korean coast guard, was allowed to head home Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said, bringing an end to an incident that raised doubts about Moscow's influence with the isolated Stalinist state. The Terney and its crew of 14 was carrying a load of buses from the South Korean port of Busan when it reportedly got caught in a storm and dropped anchor off North Korea. Coast guard officials detained the ship on Dec. 5.
North Korean officials freed the ship only after talks with the Russian ambassador to Pyongyang in the port where it was being held. The Foreign Ministry said the ship left for its home port on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refused to comment on the incident Tuesday, but the top Russian border guards official in Russia's Far East, Vladimir Lakizo, was quoted as saying by earlier this week that the detention of the ship "caused bewilderment."
The Gazeta newspaper also cited Lakizo as saying that even though the two nations signed an agreement to cooperate in border protection, North Korean authorities have been reluctant to help track down North Korean fishing ships allegedly involved in poaching in Russia's territorial waters.
Russia has worked to re-establish Soviet-era ties with the isolated Stalinist state and has been party to six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program. President Vladimir Putin has visited North Korea and played host twice to its reclusive leader Kim Jong Il. However, it was unclear how much sway Moscow has with Pyongyang, and the long detention of the Russian ship has suggested that it was quite limited. Apparently fearing to lose any remaining leverage, Moscow reacted to the incident in a markedly low-key way, an approach that contrasted with the angry Russian response to the detention of Russian fishing vessels by Norwegian authorities in October, reports the AP. N.U.