Russian border police have seized a Japanese fishing boat and its six crew members while it was in disputed waters between the two countries, prompting Tokyo to protest, Japanese officials said Monday.
The No. 38 Zuisho Maru was captured Sunday morning off Kunashiri Island, one of four disputed islands in a group the Japanese call the Northern Territories and the Russians call the Kurils, Japan Coast Guard spokeswoman Sanae Kobayashi said early Monday.
The boat, which was stopped by the Russian border police for inspection, has not returned to its home port of Rausu on the eastern coast of Japan's main northern island of Hokkaido. The current location of the crew and their condition was unknown, she said.
The coast guard was later notified by the Russian boarder authorities, notifying the seizure of the boat and its crew members, said another Coast Guard spokesman Hidemi Ogahara.
Japan's Foreign Ministry lodged a protest, demanding Russia provide an explanation and resolve the case promptly.
"Based on Japan's position on the Northern Territories issue, we cannot accept (the seizure) and request that the case (be) resolved promptly," the ministry said in a statement issued late Sunday.
Public broadcaster NHK said the Russians seized the boat because it attempted to run away following an initial order to stop for an inspection of the catch.
The boat was taken to the disputed island's main port city of Yuzhno-Kurilsk, Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported, citing regional coast guard officials, the AP reports.
Zuisho Maru, carrying 1.5 tons of fish aboard, was one of two vessels spotted by the Russian coast guard Sunday in the waters near the island, the report said. The other boat escaped capture.
Russia seized the four-island chain from Japan in the closing days of World War II. The dispute has kept the two countries from a signing a formal peace treaty.
There have been frequent seizures of Japanese boats in recent months as Russian authorities have stepped up patrols in and around the disputed territory.
In August, Russian patrol boats fatally shot a Japanese fisherman and seized a vessel in the disputed northern waters, escalating tensions between the two nations. Leaders from both sides have since called for territorial negotiations to be stepped up so that a peace treaty can be signed.